Child Pornography

Child Pornography Defense Lawyers

As sex crime defense attorneys, we see law enforcement doing more than ever to combat child pornography.  They have enlisted the help of internet service providers, manufacturers of software, cloud computing storage providers, and others in the industry to assist them in their battle.  Police departments are now automatically notified when a person is alleged to have child pornography on their computer, or storing it offsite.  

This notification occurs when companies who host or store images and videos, such as Microsoft, Google or Dropbox or over 1000 other electronic service providers, compare the images or videos they are hosting and storing to a database of known child pornography.  The known child pornography has a unique digital footprint, that they are able to use in comparison to the stored or hosted images and videos.  When they come across a user who they believe is in possession of child pornography, they will report this person to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).  The agency, funded in part by the US Department of Justice, receives anywhere from 15,000 to 25,000 reports per week.

NCMEC is an organization that works in conjunction with the Child Victim Identification Program (CVIP).  The NCMEC serves as the central information repository in the United States relating to child victims depicted in sexually exploitative images and videos.  NCMEC has analyzed well over 120 million child pornography videos and images that it has cataloged and also used a computer algorithm to analyze the media and look for its "digital fingerprints". Officials use this information to track how often the image is traded and how many times a child has been digitally victimized. Called hash values, this fingerprint is then added to a database. In addition to the hash values, which can be affected by manipulating the photograph in subtle ways, they also look for the equivalent of a digital fingerprint or DNA, with which they can aid in easy comparison with other images.

Once NCMEC has information that corresponds with a suspicion of child pornography, they will alert federal or local law enforcement of the information that they have, and that agency will either investigate it themselves or pass it on to the appropriate agency to do so.  Oftentimes we see federal agencies pass on investigatory duties to local law enforcement, when the federal government does not deem it a large enough case to invoke their attention.  This can change with time however, as federal courts and law enforcement have jurisdiction over most child pornography due to the interstate nature of the crime's usual manner of commission.  

The law enforcement agency will usually serve search warrants on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) such as AT&T or Comcast, to first see who the internet service account is registered to.  In some cases, when they are investigating a single residence with a single occupant who is the customer of the ISP, it can be more conclusive that the ISP customer is likely the person they should focus their investigation on.  In other instances they may be investigating a residence with many occupants, and many different online electronic devices.  This can make it more difficult to show who was accessing child pornography at a given time and place. Most of the time, the agency will use the information they obtain from the ISP search warrant to seek another search warrant for the residence where they believe the images or videos are being accessed.  If a judge issues a search warrant, the police can enter your home without your permission, and search for computers and electronic devices that could hold child pornography.  They then seize these devices and turn them over to computer forensic experts, to extract any evidence of child pornography.  See our recent blog on media sniffing dogs here, for more information on this subject.  

As a practical matter, our law office is usually notified when a search warrant has been served on a suspected child pornographer.  When a warrant is served, a suspect becomes aware that they are the focus of a law enforcement investigation.  Usually their computer, storage media, cell phone, tablet, and any other electronic media and devices have been seized, and they have been arrested and/or interrogated by law enforcement regarding their suspected role in the crime. We like to become involved in these cases as early as possible, as there is no time too early to enlist a criminal defense lawyer on your side.  

If a judge issues a search warrant, the police can enter your home without your permission, and search for computers and electronic devices that could hold child pornography.  They then seize these devices and turn them over to computer forensic experts, to extract any evidence of child pornography.  The process of extracting this information can take a significant time period, often many months, as the process itself is slow and there is a backlog of cases that forensic experts are seeking to clear.  

We are used to arguing the validity of search warrants, and moving to suppress evidence that was illegally obtained.  We know that computers are often shared between multiple users, and there are a wide variety of defenses that can be raised when this is the case.  We know that computers can automatically upload thumbnail pictures, and other information from a website, even when the user does not intend to upload the information or even visit the site.  These are highly technical issues that often will require the use of our own computer forensic experts, in order to refute claims made by the forensic experts used by law enforcement.

Child Pornography Sex Crimes Frequently Charged:

  • Sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Dealing in depictions of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct
  • Sending, bringing into state depictions of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct
  • Viewing depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct
  • Possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct in the First Degree
  • Possession of depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct in the Second Degree
  • Communication with minor for immoral purposes
  • Commercial sexual abuse of a minor
  • Promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor

Depending on the criminal activity alleged, prosecutors have a number of crimes they can charge a person with committing.  Often times an incident could be charges as either a federal or state crime, or as a misdemeanor or felony.  If a prosecutor wants to get a maximum sanction against an accused child pornographer, they can seek to charge them with a felony offense for each image of child pornography.  Therefore, a person who had 10 images would face 10 felony charges.  Depending on the images and circumstances they could face up to 10 years in prison for each image they possessed. The federal and state sentencing guidelines are extremely complicated, and even good lawyers that do not regularly practice in this field often have a difficult time understanding the various consequences.  

Sometimes Good People Make Mistakes, and Sometimes They are Caught by the Police

When an otherwise law abiding person makes a mistake, and views makes or distributes child pornography, the best chance for a good outcome may be to seek treatment.  In order to seek treatment you need to be aware of the procedures and policies being used in sex offender treatment.  You need to be prepared for an evaluation by a state certified sex offender treatment specialist.  These specialists provide treatment to different types of people, for different types of issues, and our office is able to help you find the best possible avenue for treatment, to give you the best chance for recovery.

In seeking treatment for your problem, you may also be assisting us in showing the prosecutor and judge that you are a low risk to reoffend, and that you are a good candidate for the prosecutor and court to exercise discretion on behalf of.  We regularly interface with prosecutors on our client's behalf, in order to persuade them that our clients are better served by community based treatment, versus long term prison incarceration.

If you are even suspected of child pornography, you should immediately seek a consultation with an attorney that is proficient with these cases, likes those at Newton & Hall. Call us at (253) 867-2675 to schedule a free initial consultation. 

For a recent blog post by attorney Keith Hall on the subject of child pornography prosecutions in King County and Seattle click here.