Child Pornography Lawyer in Sarasota, Florida (FL)
Fighting Child Pornography Charges in Florida
The possession images, videos, or any material defined as child pornography is a crime. In Florida, individuals convicted of this crime will be faced with aggressive prosecution and with state’s attorneys who will often seek the harshest penalties available under the law. The consequences for an individual convicted of possession of child pornography are serious and go beyond lengthy prison sentences and monetary penalties. As a registered sex offender and convicted felon, a person who is convicted of child pornography will likely face difficulties acquiring employment and interacting with others long after their prison time is complete. The social stigma can follow these individuals throughout their lives.
In some cases, individuals are wrongfully suspected and accused of committing the crime of child pornography. Anyone facing these charges must take them seriously and should immediately seek counsel from an experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorney who understands the relevant laws and possible defenses to the charges. A child pornography attorney in Sarasota, Florida can help ensure that the accused individual's rights are protected and that the trial and the legal process is conducted in a way that is fair and just.
A criminal defense attorney's advice and counsel is necessary from the very beginning of the investigation. Suspects should understand that they have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and that searches of their property cannot be forced unless the investigating law enforcement officers have obtained a search warrant. Being accused of a crime does not strip a person of their rights under the law. It is important to know and understand what your rights are so that you can protect yourself and work on defending against the charges filed.
Defending against Teen Sexting and Child Pornography Charges
Sexting has become a growing problem among teenagers. Studies indicate that about one out of every five teens have shared, sent, or posted a nude image or video of themselves. Nearly fifty percent of the teens involved stated that they felt pressured by others to send the photos. Most of the time, these images are being exchanged between teenage girlfriends and boyfriends. The harsher penalties faced by adult sex offenders are not applied in cases involving sexting or transmission between teenagers who are all under the age of eighteen, but even in these cases, criminal charges may apply. In Florida, a person who is under eighteen can be criminally charged for sexting-related offenses. Thus, while many people may not realize it, a sixteen-year-old in possession of pornographic images of another sixteen-year-old can face criminal charges. Based on statistics, a high number of teens are violating this law. Florida has a statute that is specifically for juveniles who are accused of “sexting”-related crimes, which can also include images on other electronic devices such as computers. The legislature enacted the law to reduce penalties as compared to other forms of child pornography, but the charges are still very serious.
Because juveniles go through the juvenile justice process, the penalties may be less severe as the court has more discretion in determining the sentence than in the adult criminal system. A first-time offense may be limited to community service and a fine. However, a second similar offense can land a teen in a juvenile detention center. If the images were sent over the course of one 24-hour period, then the law will treat the distribution or transmission as one offense, and not as separate offenses for each image or video sent.
In order to defend against these allegations, a teen may argue that they did not request the illegal image or images and that they reported the message to a legal guardian, school official, parent, or police officer. If the suspected teen shares the image, distributes it, or transmits it to another person who is not one of the above listed responsible parties, then the defense can no longer be applied.
Charges for Child-Pornography-Related Crimes in Sarasota, Florida
A person accused of child pornography-related crimes in Florida may face numerous charges, each of which will carry severe penalties. The following charges may apply depending on the facts of the case:
Exposing a Minor to Pornography: A person who exposes a minor to pornographic images, exhibitions, videos o films may be charged under Florida State Statute 847.013. A person can be convicted for any act of exposure of one of these items to a minor. The crime often involves renting or selling pornographic movies, videos, or images to a minor.
This crime is categorized as a first-degree misdemeanor, and a person convicted can face up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. Individuals who are repeat offenders can face more lengthy prison sentences and higher monetary penalties.
Distribution of Child Pornography: A person can face charges for distribution of child pornography is he or she is suspected of directing, advertising, dispersing, or producing videos or images of children involved in sexual activities. Any images or other recordings of persons under the age of eighteen that depict those minors involved in sexual activity will qualify as illegal child pornography. In order to convict someone of this crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew that the person or persons depicted were under the age of eighteen at the time the recording was made.
A person convicted of the crime of Distribution of Child Pornography will face a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison. These individuals will also have to register themselves on the National Sex Offender Registry.
Manufacturing of Child Pornography: Manufacturing child pornography is a crime that involves the solicitation of children for the purposes of creating pornographic content, or the production of videos, live acts, or images of children involved in sexual activities.
This crime carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison, and convicted individuals must register as sex offenders.
Transmission of Child Pornography: Anyone who is accused of engaging in the transmission of child pornography, by sharing images or other data via the internet, cellphone, or any other means will face felony charges. Each image or file will be counted as a separate charge, meaning the penalties will be harsher for those who have engaged in this illegal activity on multiple occasions. Transmission of child pornography is a third-degree felony and carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. These individuals will be required to register as sex offenders.
Possession of Child Pornography: Any individual convicted of possessing content that shows children or minors engaging in sexual activities will face up to five years in prison. The crime could also come with federal charges. Florida law defines which activities qualify as sexual conduct in Florida Statute Section 847.001(16).
Related Charges that May also be Filed
In many cases, a person who is charged with a child pornography-related offense will likely face other criminal charges stemming from the same or related activities. The other related charges will depend on the facts of the case, but may include one or more of the below offenses:
- Fondling of a minor;
- Rape or statutory rape of a minor;
- Sexual battery of a minor;
- Lewd behavior with a minor;
- Other charges related to sexual acts with a minor.
An individual convicted of any of these offenses will qualify in the State of Florida as a sex offender and will be registered accordingly. There is no defense of consent in any of these crimes because pursuant to the law, children are not deemed to have the ability to consent to engage in sexual activities. These crimes will be aggressively prosecuted in the state. It is imperative to have an experienced attorney work to develop a strategy against these charges.
Sentencing for Child Pornography-Related Offenses is Severe
The consequences for a person convicted of child-pornography related offenses are severe and life-altering. Some of the possible penalties and consequences include:
- Prison sentences ranging from five to thirty years;
- The possibility of a life sentence for repeat offenders;
- Required registration as a sex offender.
Being required to register as a sex offender on the national registry and the Florida state registry is a serious consequence that comes with many life-long difficulties. Many employers will refuse to hire a person who is on the registry, making it difficult for these individuals to find gainful employment. Those convicted of these crimes will also have restricted access to children, possibly including their own children, if they have any. This can create more difficulties and complications for the individual long after their prison sentence is completed.
Florida's prosecutors take these crimes very seriously, and the courts have little tolerance for anyone who commits sex crimes against children or minors. One image is enough for a person to face extreme life-changing consequences. In some instances, the crimes may be upgraded due to the child being under twelve years old or if the images or recordings involved are violent, sadistic, or masochistic.
Aggravated Offenses and Harsher Penalties
Crimes that are considered “aggravated offenses” are those that contain certain facts that make upgrade the crime under the law. In the case of child pornography, the crime will be considered an aggravated offense if one of the following circumstances applies:
- Sexual battery of a child;
- Sexual bestiality involving a child;
- Sadomasochistic abuse of a child; or
- Any movie depicting a child engaged in sexual activities.
Defining Child Pornography
Not every image that depicts a child in little or no clothing is considered pornographic in nature. Florida law defines child pornography as images of persons under eighteen engaged in sexual conduct. Sexual conduct is defined in Florida Statute Section 847.001(16). The following are considered sexual conduct for the purposes of child pornography laws:
- Simulated sexual intercourse;
- Actual sexual intercourse;
- Deviate sexual intercourse;
- Sadomasochistic abuse;
- Actual lewd exhibition of the genitals;
- Sexual bestiality;
- Conduct that is considered sexual battery or that simulates sexual batter is or will be committed;
- Physical contact between a person’s unclothed or clothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or in the case of a female, breasts, with the intent to sexually arouse or gratify either involved party.
Child pornography is illegal, but it is distinguished under the law from child erotica, which involves partial or fully naked images that do not meet the above definitions for sexual conduct.
Separate Images Can Lead to Multiple Charges and Longer Sentences
Florida law deems each image of child pornography as a separate criminal offense. A person facing more offenses will also be facing harsher penalties. The theory behind treating the images this way is that each separate image is believed to require effort and energy for the perpetrator to acquire therefore indicating the individual was heavily involved in the acquisition or creation of such illegal material.
Time limit for Charging a Suspect with Computer Child Pornography Crimes
Child pornography crimes typically involve computers or electronic devices. In Florida, there is a three-year statute of limitations for computer child pornography crimes when the crime is charged as a third-degree felony.
Computer child pornography is a crime that involves a person knowingly compiling, transmitting, publishing, printing, making, transmitting, buying, selling, exchanging, or receiving images or files deemed to be child pornography through the use of a computer. A person may also be convicted if he or she involves in the transmission of, encouragement of, or solicitation of any minor’s contact or personal information with the intent of involving that minor in sexual conduct or a depiction of sexual conduct.
Probation after Imprisonment in Child Pornography Cases
A person convicted under Florida law for felony child pornography will follow their prison sentence with sex offender probation. Florida Statute Section 948.03(5)(b) states the conditions of probation, which the court may impose on a sex offender. The probation is intended to protect the community from the individual and to ensure that the offender receives counseling and treatment.
The convict must also submit two blood samples to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which will be included in the state's DNA data bank.
Child Pornography as a Federal Crime
An individual facing charges for child pornography can be tried for both state law offenses as well as for federal crimes. The federal law defines child pornography in 18 U.S.C. Section 2256(1) and (8). The federal crime of child pornography involves the visual depiction of an individual under eighteen years of age while that individual is engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Creation, distribution, or possession of contraband that contains images deemed sexually explicit will be guilty of the federal crime of child pornography.
Under federal statute, images can be sexually explicit even if they do not show sexual activity but only depict a naked child in a way that is considered sexually suggestive.
Depictions can be in any form, including:
- Electronic data;
- Data on a computer disc or electronic device;
- Undeveloped film; and/or
- Images from websites of internet content.
In order to be charged for the federal crime of child pornography, a person must be suspected of engaging in any type of child pornography-related offense that, in any way, affects interstate or foreign commerce. If the material, images or video, or equipment used in creating the images or videos moves across state lines, then federal charges may apply.
If the federal courts have jurisdiction, the individual can be charged with:
- Possession, receipt of, or distribution of child pornography under 18 U.S.C. Section 2252;
- Sexual Exploitation of children (which applies to the production of child pornography) under 18 U.S.C. Section 2251; and/or
- Production of sexually explicit images or depictions of a child or minor intended for importation into the United States under 18 U.S.C. Section 2260.
Strategies to Defend Against Child Pornography Charges in Sarasota, Florida (FL)
There are various ways to defend against child pornography charges. The defense may surround a denial that the individual was involved in any illegal activity, or might be based on the violation of a suspect’s rights during the investigation.
Some defenses commonly used in these cases include:
Child Erotica: In some cases, the defense will surround the classification of the images involved. As mentioned above, child erotica and child pornography are two different categories, and while pornographic material is illegal, that which is deemed erotica will not lead to criminal charges. An attorney will be able to determine whether such a defense applies based on the facts relevant to the case.
Adult Depiction: In some situations, the subject of an image or film may appear younger than their actual age. In these instances, the best defense would be that the images do not actually involve the depiction of a minor and are, therefore, completely legal pornographic images or videos.
Unknowing Possession: The nature of computers, computer viruses, and hackers make it possible that a person’s computer may be targeted and such illegal files downloaded against the computer owner’s will. The individual may have even been unaware of the presence of the images on their computer.
Transitory Possession: In cases involving transitory possession, a person may have received an image that qualifies as child pornography without asking or looking for such an image. In many cases, a person who opens such an image may immediately delete the file once they realize what it contains. The person may, however, not understand that the image is saved in their cache or as a thumbnail. In some instances proving these circumstances can be a strong defense against child pornography charges.
Good Faith Destruction or Reporting: In some cases, if the accused individual reported the images that he or she received, this can be used to defend against the criminal charges. In order for this defense to apply, the individual cannot be in possession of more than three images.
Substantial Assistance: A person accused of child pornography may be able to defend based on the fact that they aided law enforcement in the identification or some other person engaged in child pornography possession, distribution, or production.
Illegal Search and Seizure: When police carry out a search of a suspect’s home, belongings, and electronic devices, they must first obtain a search warrant. If a search warrant was not obtained, or the search was otherwise improper, then a defense attorney may have the ability to fight against the use of the evidence by the prosecution. In some instances, this can mean there might not be enough evidence to convict the suspect, and the charges may be dropped.
Entrapment: In some instances, suspects are caught after law enforcement officers conduct an undercover operation aimed at catching criminals. If the suspect can show that they were not predisposed to engage in the crime, but was lured in by law enforcement actions, then they might be able to raise the defense of entrapment.
Hiring a Sarasota Defense Attorney to Defend Against Child Pornography Charges
For individuals who are convicted of a child pornography-related offense, the consequences can be life-shattering and permanent. The severity of these charges means that a suspect should never think it is okay to defend himself or herself against the charges, even if they believe they have a strong defense. It is important to get legal help immediately in order to ensure that your legal rights are protected and to start working immediately on developing a strategy to fight against the charges.
When hiring an attorney to represent a defendant in a child pornography case, it is important to find legal counsel who has experience handling these serious criminal charges and who understands the related laws and possible defenses.
Our Sarasota attorneys focus exclusively in defending those accused of serious criminal offenses. We work closely with our clients to understand the facts specific to their cases and to build a strong defense to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense with fewer and less severe consequences.
By working with a seasoned criminal defense attorney in Sarasota, Florida, you can give yourself the best chance of fighting the charges filed against you and of having your own rights protected throughout the process.