Pennsylvania Child Pornography Defense
Few criminal cases generate the reaction that child pornography or other internet sex crimes do. The defense attorneys at The Zeiger Firm are experienced in both federal and state court at dealing with child pornography and internet sex crimes cases. Our lawyers have worked on both trials and appeals in state and federal court throughout Pennsylvania in child pornography and internet sex crimes cases.
With aggressive investigation and lawyering, the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criminal defense attorneys at The Zeiger Firm have convinced authorities to drop and dismiss cases at their inception, before police and prosecutors ruin reputations. When cases do go forward, our criminal defense attorneys understand the various charges a person may face, and will aggressively and zealously defend you against them.
Child pornography has many definitions. Generally, any person who permits a child younger than 18 years old to engage in or simulate a prohibited sexual act, or who knowingly photographs, videotapes, depicts or simulates on computer or films a child younger than 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act, or who knowingly sells, distributes or delivers a book, magazine, pamphlet, slide, photograph, film, videotape, computer file or other material depicting or simulating a child younger than 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act is guilty of child pornography.
In addition, any person who knowingly possesses or controls any book, magazine, pamphlet, slide, photograph, film, videotape, computer file, or other material depicting a child younger than 18 years engaging in or simulating a prohibited sexual act is also guilty of child pornography.
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criminal defense lawyers at The Zeiger Firm understand the laws, rules and procedures necessary to defend clients charged with online solicitation and child pornography, and we fight to obtain the best results for our clients. We advocate zealously, never forgetting that our most important goal is obtaining the best results for our clients, whether that means fighting procedural battles or representing our clients before a judge or jury.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, criminal defense attorney to defend you after an arrest for or charge of online solicitation or possessing, creating, selling, or distributing child pornography, contact The Zeiger Firm, who represent every client zealously to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at (215) 546-0340 or send us an email via the form below.
It Is Possible to Defend Against Child Pornography Charges
If federal agents or state police initiate an investigation against you on suspicion of child pornography, you need the aggressive representation of criminal defense attorney Brian Zeiger as soon as possible. Our office is committed to protecting your rights no matter how serious your charges. We know many different ways to defend against child pornography charges. For example, evidence may have been illegally obtained or the prosecutor may not be able to prove all elements of your offense beyond a reasonable doubt. We will explore every possible defense in your specific case.
At The Zeiger Firm, we know that child pornography charges come with a severe social stigma in addition to potentially severe criminal penalties. Both federal and Pennsylvania authorities take all sex crime allegations extremely seriously—especially when such allegations involve the abuse or sexual exploitation of a child. While prosecutors are prepared to pursue convictions to the fullest extent possible under the law, our experienced defense team is equally prepared to aggressively defend against charges on either the federal or state level.
The attorneys at The Zeiger Firm have defended the rights of defendants facing a wide variety of criminal charges, including violent offenses and sex crimes. We do not pass judgment on any of our clients and instead seek to fully protect your rights as a defendant and ensure you are not wrongfully convicted or sentenced too harshly if you plead guilty. You can schedule a free consultation to learn more about the many ways we can assist you in your child pornography case, so please do not wait any longer to contact a member of our legal team today.
State Laws Regarding Child Pornography
Pennsylvania law 18 Pa.C.S. § 6312 makes child pornography illegal and defines the specific elements of this offense. The following can all lead to child pornography charges:
- Viewing images or videos
- Downloading images or videos from the internet
- Distributing images or videos
- Producing your own images or videos
Looking at a single image or video that constitutes child pornography may not seem nearly as serious as producing your own materials or actively distributing materials. However, in Pennsylvania, viewing child pornography can result in a third-degree felony charge—even for first-time offenders. The charge can increase to a second-degree felony for subsequent offenses. For this reason, never take an investigation or allegations lightly simply because they only involve viewing child pornography.
If you are accused of either distributing or producing child pornography, your charges will depend on any previous convictions and the specific circumstances of the allegations. In some situations, these allegations could result in first-degree felony charges.
In Pennsylvania, you cannot merely claim that minors said they were of legal age or that you otherwise believed them to be of legal age. However, you may defend against child pornography charges in other ways. For example, one element of the offense is that you committed the crime intentionally and knowingly. If you accidentally came across an illegal image or video, you did not have the requisite intent to be convicted of the offense. This is not simply a claim you can make to avoid conviction in every case, but a criminal defense attorney can identify when this is an effective defense in your case.
Federal Laws Against Child Pornography
Federal criminal laws apply to acts that affect interstate commerce. However, child pornography—once produced—is quickly disseminated via the internet and across state lines. For this reason, the federal government regularly enforces federal laws against child pornography and aggressively pursues charges against suspects.
Different federal laws address child pornography, including:
- 18 U.S.C. § 2251 – Makes illegal the sexual exploitation of children or transportation of children for the purpose of exploiting them
- 18 U.S.C. § 2252 and 18 U.S.C. § 2252A – Make illegal the distribution or receipt of child pornography materials by any means affecting interstate commerce, including by computer or by mail, as well as the reproduction, sale, or advertisement of such materials
- 18 U.S.C. § 2260 – Makes it illegal for anyone outside of the United States to have any dealings with child pornography with the intent to transmit the materials to the United States.
Federal law also prohibits possessing or accessing child pornography in any building or on any land that the government uses, owns, leases, or controls, including maritime jurisdictions. It is also illegal to conspire or attempt to engage in any of the above unlawful acts, even if the act is not completed. In addition, federal law not only prohibits materials depicting sexual acts but also any nude or suggestive photos. All such materials can result in serious federal charges.
Again, you cannot defend against federal child pornography charges by claiming you were mistaken as to the age of the minor, though you may present other defenses to these allegations.
State vs. Federal Charges
Because both state and federal laws exist against child pornography, many people wonder why their charges were brought in one court instead of the other. Acts that violate both federal and state laws can result in charges in either jurisdiction. It mostly depends on whether the federal government chooses to pursue your case.
Federal agents can initiate an investigation of possible child pornography offenses on their own with no word or assistance from state authorities. This is particularly common when suspected child pornography is accessed or stored on foreign or interstate servers. Federal agents often want to trace child pornography to various sources to uncover larger operations or child pornography rings.
In addition, if the state prosecutor brings child pornography charges against an individual and federal authorities learn about the case, they can take the case over, issuing federal charges based on the evidence and essentially transferring the case to federal court. Because cases can be brought in either jurisdiction or even change jurisdictions, hire an attorney with extensive experience defending against charges in both state and federal court.
Child Pornography Investigations: Know Your Rights
Offenses related to child pornography are not committed outwardly in public, such as driving under the influence or robbery. Instead, these offenses are committed behind closed doors, often using personal computers and secure Wifi connections, so it can be difficult to identify whether a crime is happening at all. Often, undercover sting operations or tips offered to police about illegal activity catch individuals engaged in child pornography.
To convict someone of child pornography, authorities need sufficient evidence to prove all allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. Sometimes, police or federal authorities will conduct extensive investigations into possible offenses before ever making an arrest. Federal investigations can go particularly in depth, as federal agencies are well-funded and can dedicate many resources to gathering evidence to ensure they have a strong case and uncover any and all players in a possible conspiracy or operation.
Often, individuals can become tipped off when they are under investigation. Sometimes, they have a suspicious feeling that people are digging into their business. In others, authorities may directly call the individual in for questioning. If you believe you may be under investigation by either the police or federal authorities for any reason, immediately seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Even if authorities state that you are not personally under suspicion or that they are trying to “clear your name” by questioning you, you are likely a suspect. You may say something incriminating—even without realizing it. For these reasons, have an attorney present during questioning to protect your rights and ensure that you do not answer any questions that may hurt you in a possible future case.
The Zeiger Firm can begin representing your rights well before an arrest if you believe you are under investigation. It is never too early to call if you may be under suspicion of child pornography offenses.
Possible Penalties of Child Pornography Convictions
State and federal courts can impose a wide variety of penalties if you are convicted of a child pornography offense. No matter which jurisdiction your case is in, you may face an extended prison sentence, as well as a lifetime of sex offender registration under Megan’s Law.
In addition to the court-imposed penalties you may face, a child pornography conviction can damage almost every aspect of your life. Even the mere allegation of a sex crime involving a child can result in significant damages to your personal relationships, reputation, and can result in the loss of your job and difficulty finding future employment. A conviction can also prohibit you from working in certain industries—such as teaching or healthcare—and can also eliminate your legal right to custody of your children.
Imprisonment for Convictions in Pennsylvania
If you are convicted of any offense in Pennsylvania, the maximum prison sentence you will face is set by law depending on the degree of your charge. Child pornography charges can be brought as third-, second-, or first-degree felonies. The maximum prison sentences follow:
- Third-degree felony – seven years in state prison
- Second-degree felony – 10 years in state prison
- First-degree felony – 20 years in state prison
To assist a judge in determining a particular sentence, Pennsylvania also has specific sentencing guidelines. While these guidelines are not binding on a judge and do not eliminate the judge’s discretion, they can provide some idea of a sentence that a particular offense may yield.
Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines are based on two considerations:
- The “gravity score” of your offense, which measures the seriousness of the crime
- Your “prior record score,” which takes into account any previous criminal convictions on your record
Child pornography offenses can have a gravity score from a six to a 10, depending on the age of the child depicted and other circumstances. An offense with a gravity score of 6 and no prior offenses has a recommended sentence of three to nine years. With a prior offender score of one, the recommended sentence increases to six to 11 years, and a prior offender score of two will result in a recommendation of nine to 15 years.
This, however, is only for the lesser offenses related to child pornography. For reference, a gravity score of 10 with no prior offender score has a recommended sentence of 30 to 48 years of imprisonment.
While judges are not bound by these sentencing guidelines, they hardly go easy on offenders convicted of sex crimes involving children. This means that you can be sentenced to a long period of incarceration for a child pornography conviction in Pennsylvania, so it is critical to have the strongest defense possible in this type of case.
Federal Prison Sentences for Child Pornography Convictions
Federal law, on the other hand, does set out mandatory minimum sentences to which judges must adhere. In the case of child pornography laws, even downloading a file can result in a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison if you are convicted. This is the case even if you have no prior convictions on your record.
Different factors are considered when determining a mandatory minimum prison sentence, including prior cases and the specific nature of the materials involved in the case. Some mandatory minimum requirements can result in life in federal prison if the circumstances of your case are severe.
Judges do not have much discretion in sentencing convicted offenders below mandatory minimums. Therefore, you must have a defense attorney who can help you avoid conviction or at least present your case in a manner that initiates as low of a mandatory minimum sentence as possible.
Sex Offender Registration
While a prison sentence will deprive you of your freedom for a period of time, being required to register as a sex offender can haunt you for the rest of your life. According to Megan’s Law, Pennsylvania authorities maintain a database of all offenders convicted of sex crimes, on either the state or federal level, for which registration is required—and child pornography is definitely such an offense.
When you have to register as a sex offender, you must annually provide or update your personal information with the Pennsylvania State Police. Police then post all database information on their sex offender website, which is searchable by anyone with internet access. This site will display your name, photo, address, and offense for which you were convicted, among other detailed information. It has become all too common for prospective employers, landlords, or even new social connections to search the sex offender registry before hiring, renting an apartment, or pursuing a relationship. Registered sex offenders often encounter numerous obstacles in their lives as a result of their registration.
How long will you have to continue to register as a sex offender? This depends on the nature of your charge and your prior record. The three tiers of registration requirements are:
- Tier III – 15 years of registration
- Tier II – 25 years of registration
- Tier I – Lifetime registration
The tier of your conviction will depend on how many counts of child pornography you face, the type of allegations against you, previous convictions, and more.
Because of the extreme consequences that can stem from sex offender registration, you need the highest quality of defense representation throughout every step of your case. The Zeiger Firm will work to decrease or dismiss your charges whenever possible to limit or eliminate the consequences you face.
Defenses to Child Pornography Charges
If you are accused of child pornography offenses, it can be difficult to take the first step and discuss your allegations with a stranger. However, at The Zeiger Firm, we can assure you that you can speak openly with us regarding your case and that all communications are confidential. Our goal is to provide the best defense possible for every one of our clients, no matter what type of charges they face. We must begin building your defense and protecting your rights as soon as possible, so please do not delay in calling our office so that we can begin identifying ways to defend you.
In addition, if you are brought in for police questioning or have been arrested and police want to interrogate you, always remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to call an attorney. Once you invoke those rights, the police cannot ask you any more questions until your attorney is present. Police will often try to get you to waive these rights so they can interrogate you. However, invoking your rights to remain silent and to an attorney cannot be used against you in your case and can only serve to help you. If police are questioning you, say you want a lawyer and call The Zeiger Firm right away.
Did the Police Violate Your Rights?
Often, police or federal agents do not follow the law when investigating and gathering evidence of a potential crime. Some investigators think they can search or take whatever they want and are simply out to make the arrest. However, if evidence was obtained in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights, your skilled criminal defense lawyer can move to have that evidence suppressed so that it cannot be used against you. If that was the main evidence that the prosecutor possessed, your charges may even be dropped.
Can the Prosecutor Prove All Elements Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?
One of the hardest elements to prove was that you knowingly or intentionally possessed child pornography. Did you share a computer with a roommate or household members? Did they download materials of which you were unaware? In addition, many malware and spyware programs allow hackers to place materials on your computer when you had no idea they were even there. If the prosecutor cannot show that you were the one who knowingly accessed, possessed, or downloaded child pornography, they should not be able to prove your offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Were You Simply Wrongfully Accused?
In some cases, someone else may have accused you of child pornography to draw attention from themselves or you may have been set up or even entrapped. We can investigate your case and present any such defenses we find applicable to your case.
A Favorable Plea Deal May Be an Option
In some cases, you may be willing to plead guilty to child pornography charges if you can plead to lesser charges or receive a less-severe sentence. Our experienced criminal defense lawyers know how to present mitigating evidence to negotiate a favorable plea bargain with the prosecutor. However, we will never push you into accepting a plea bargain if you are not willing to plead guilty and we are not afraid to defend your case at trial if needed.
Contact a Pennsylvania and Federal Child Pornography Defense Lawyer as Soon as Possible
After an arrest, too many people wait to call an attorney for various reasons—they may feel embarrassed by their charges or concerned about the cost. The Zeiger Firm offers free consultations for potential clients for you to discuss your situation and to learn about the many ways we can assist you. Child pornography offenses are always felony charges and a conviction can follow you around for years or maybe even for the rest of your life. There is too much at stake to not have a highly experienced criminal defense attorney handling your case from the start.
If you are under investigation, have been arrested, or have already been charged with child pornography offenses at the state or federal level, call The Zeiger Firm at (215) 546-0340 or write us online as soon as you can to get the legal help you need.