Federal and state laws make it a crime to produce, possess, distribute, or sell pornographic materials that exploit or portray a minor (under the age of 18). Increasingly, child pornography laws are being utilized to punish use of computer technology and the Internet to obtain, share, and distribute pornographic material involving children, including images and films.
Federal laws addressing child pornography are:
- 18 U.S.C. § 2251- Sexual Exploitation of Children
(Production of child pornography)
- 18 U.S.C. § 2251A- Selling and Buying of Children
- 18 U.S.C. § 2252- Certain activities relating to material involving the sexual exploitation of minors (Possession, distribution and receipt of child pornography)
- 18 U.S.C. § 2252A- Certain activities relating to material constituting or containing child pornography
- 18 U.S.C. § 2260- Production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States
A violation of federal child pornography laws is a serious crime, and convicted offenders face fines severe statutory penalties. First-time offenders found guilty of producing child pornography may be sentenced to fines and between 15 to 30 years in prison. Offenders may be prosecuted under federal, state or both jurisdictions for any child pornography offense.
State vs. Federal Laws
A federal child pornography crime such as possession, manufacturing, distribution, or "access with intent to view," typically involves the illegal activity crossing state lines such as on the Internet or through the mail. While federal authorities may be involved, state prosecutors may also pursue child pornography prosecutions. Sentences vary by state, but most will require a convicted defendant to register as a sex offender for life.
Mandatory Sex Registration
If you've been convicted of a child pornography-related crime (federal or state), your sentence will likely include mandatory sex offender registration. Upon conviction, a sex offender will be required to register his or her name, address, and past offenses into a registry for monitoring and tracking offenders.
It is both a federal and state crime for a person to knowingly fail to register or update his or her registration as required by law. You can gain access to the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) that includes links to the registry for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Child Pornography and the First Amendment
Some have argued, rather unsuccessfully, that child pornography should be protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, courts have consistently found that images of child pornography are not protected speech under the First Amendment and are therefore illegal.
What Should I Do if I Discover a Suspected Child Pornography Website?
If you come across a website that you believe is depicting child pornography, the first step is to contact your local law enforcement agency. While many of these crimes involve federal law, local authorities will know where to route the investigation. You can also contact:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) CyberTipLine
- Executive Office for the United States Attorneys (EOUSA)
What Are Your Options? Start with a Free Case Review
Whether falling under federal or state law, child pornography crimes are serious and carry very long sentences, including possible lifetime mandatory sex registration. If you or someone you know has been accused of child pornography, it's critical to speak with a criminal defense attorney soon. An attorney can protect your rights and may be able to help resolve your case early on in the process. There are experienced criminal defense attorneys in your area who are able to help and will even provide a free review of your case.