Federal Internet Pornography

The computer crimes most commonly prosecuted by the federal government are those related to child pornography possession and distribution. Communication with minors for sexual purposes or sending sexual images to minors over the internet also falls within federal jurisdiction. The potential punishments upon conviction for these crimes is often quite severe, including up to decades of imprisonment, enormous fines, and a virtual lifetime of stigma.

Federal law prohibits possession, receipt, distribution, copying, or advertising of images containing sexual depictions of minors. In addition to actual images of individuals under 18 years old, sexual images even purporting to depict minors can also qualify as child pornography, whether or not an actual minor is depicted. A conviction for possession of child pornography can result in a sentence from 5 to 20 years imprisonment, and up to 40 years if previously convicted.

Sending obscene images to a minor, not necessarily of child pornography, is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment under federal law, while a conviction for enticing a minor to produce child pornography will result in a 15- to 30-year sentence. With a prior conviction, these sentences may be significantly longer. In addition to imprisonment, federal law provides for forfeiture of any computers or electronics used in connection with child pornography possession, distribution, or production, as well as criminal fines ranging as high as $250,000. Registration as a sex offender and government supervision upon release is usually mandatory. Victims may also be entitled to sue for civil damages.

When an individual is charged with child pornography offense, one of the first lines of defense is to challenge any searches or seizures that led to the discovery of images by law enforcement. Where evidence of any crime has been discovered during a warrantless search without the property owner’s consent, it is likely that the search has violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Where such a violation of constitutional rights has occurred, suppression of all evidence seized is a real possibility.