Possession of Child Pornography: Definition and Punishment
Published Oct 26, 2020
Federal and state laws make it illegal to produce, distribute, and even possess pornographic material featuring a minor (anyone under the age of 18). Violations of child pornography laws carry some of the harshest punishments, and understandably so. In this article, we will be discussing what qualifies as possession of child pornography and what could happen to you if you violate these laws.
What is child pornography?
Child pornography is considered to be a depiction of a minor committing any sexually related acts or sex itself. This comes in the form of images, videos, or computer-generated content. Even altering or editing media to make them appear as minors can qualify as child pornography.
How do I get charged with child pornography?
To be charged with a crime violating child pornography laws, you must knowingly possess, distribute, or receive pornographic material. This crime requires a certain level of intention and knowledge on the part of the accused. So, if someone accidentally stumbles upon child pornographic content online, they may not be found guilty of this crime. However, repeatedly downloading hundreds and thousands of images and videos of child pornography shows clear intent. In less obvious cases, though, it may be challenging to determine whether the defendant actually committed a crime.
State laws on sexual consent are irrelevant in federal cases, as any depiction of a minor participating in sexually explicit conduct is illegal.
Child Pornography Laws
The specific charge depends on the situation and the severity of the violation. While not all cases may qualify as federal ones, any of them involving the internet will. In such cases, states may file criminal charges in addition to federal charges. Additionally, any acts involving interstate or foreign commerce that cross state and international lines will be considered a federal offense.
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. § 2256- Definitions
- 18 U.S.C. § 2260- Production of sexually explicit depictions of a minor for importation into the United States
Punishment under federal law will vary according to the gravity of the crime.
At its lowest level, under 18 U.S. Code § 2252 (a)(4), knowingly possessing or accessing with intent to view child pornographic material will get you a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years. If the material in question depicts a minor under 12, the maximum goes up to 20 years. Furthermore, if the defendant has a prior conviction for a sex crime, they may see a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 20.
Under 18 U.S. Code § 2252 (b)(1), almost any case of possession may fall under “receipt,” which carries similar penalties as distribution. This can get you a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 40 in jail. Any defendant that pleads guilty or is convicted of receipt or distribution must be sentenced a minimum of 5 years by the judge.
Lastly, if someone pleads guilty or is convicted of producing child pornography, this is considered as “sexual exploitation of children” under 18 U.S. Code § 2251 and could get you a 15-year mandatory sentence. Child pornography laws are so strict that under this section, you could serve time for taking any sexually explicit pictures of a minor, regardless of knowledge of the child’s age.
In addition to the sentence you’ll receive for violating child pornography laws, you will be required to register as a sex offender. Child pornography convictions carry grave consequences, such as unemployability for many jobs. During parole, you will be given restrictive conditions to live by, including where you live, who you live with, and how you use electronic devices. It’s not uncommon to submit to regular polygraph testing and mandatory therapy as well.
State laws on child pornography differ, but here’s a directory you might think of using.
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About The Author
Terrence Tan Ting is an industrial engineer by profession but a full time writer by passion. He loves to write about a wide range of topics from many different industries thanks to his undying curiosity.