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Under federal law, child pornography is defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under the age of 18). Sexually explicit conduct means actual or simulated:
Child pornography may also include images or videos of child sexual abuse. In the past, pornography generally involved videos or photos. However, visual depictions of sexual activity may take many other forms, including any undeveloped film, data stored on a computer disk, data capable of conversion into visual imagery, peer-to-peer file sharing, or computer-generated child porn images.
Laws against child pornography make it a crime to be involved in the material in any way, including:
When someone is accused of possession of child pornography, the prosecutor has the burden of proof to prove every element of the criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt. The elements vary by jurisdiction but generally include the prosecutor proving the defendant knowingly possessed or controlled material containing a visual depiction of a minor involved in sexually explicit conduct.
Child pornography is a form of child exploitation. The courts take sexual exploitation of a child charges very seriously. There are harsh penalties for possession, distribution, or receipt of child porn material, even if the individual was not involved in direct abuse. In general, any child pornography charge is a felony. Penalties depend on a number of factors, including the amount of material involved, age of the victim, participation in abuse, and prior child pornography convictions.
For example, under federal child pornography laws, a first-time offender convicted of production of child pornography can face a minimum of 15-year prison sentence. A second offense is punishable by imprisonment from 25 years to 50 years. A third conviction includes a maximum of life in federal prison.
When a judge uses sentencing guidelines, they may take into account a number of factors. Aggravating factors can involve harsher penalties, up to the maximum sentence. Aggravating factors in child pornography cases may include:
After release from imprisonment or serving out probation, someone convicted of possession or distribution of child pornography may have to register as a sex offender. Mandatory sex offender registration is a continuing obligation to notify and update law enforcement agencies annually and whenever the offender moves. Depending on the child pornography offense and the state, registration may be a lifetime duty. Failure to register or moving without notifying law enforcement may result in criminal charges.
Sex offender registration is generally publicly available. Most states have a searchable website where individuals can search for a registered sex offender by name or location. The online sex offender registry generally includes the offender’s:
With such serious criminal penalties involved in sex crimes, you may want to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for advice. A child pornography lawyer will be able to explain your legal options, evaluate every viable defense, and can challenge the prosecutor’s evidence. After formal charges are filed, your options are generally to plead guilty or take your case to court. Skilled attorneys can also help you negotiate a plea agreement to reduce the charges, try and get the minimum sentence, or have some charges dismissed. Talk to a defense attorney about your strongest defense options.
When law enforcement agencies conduct a law enforcement investigation, their evidence may only consist of the evidence of pornographic materials on someone’s computer or an IP address using file-sharing programs to exchange digital images. They may not have direct evidence that the defendant accessed or shared the information. It may be an effective defense to show the computer was shared with a roommate or others. Other common defense strategies may include:
Law enforcement cannot just search anyone’s computer for illegal material. Generally, the police need to have search warrants to conduct a search of computers, homes, vehicles, or other private areas. However, there may be several exceptions where the police do not need a warrant, including when the owner gives consent to search.
If the police conducted an unlawful search, it may be a violation of your constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Your attorney may be able to file a motion to suppress any unlawfully obtained evidence to keep it out of court. Without evidence of child pornography, the prosecutor may not have a strong enough case to move forward.
In legal practice, experience matters. An experienced attorney will likely have handled issues similar to yours many, many times. Therefore, after listening to your situation, the attorney should have a reasonable idea of the time line for a case like yours and the likely resolution.
An experienced lawyer should be able to communicate a basic “road map” on how to proceed. The lawyer should be able to walk you through the anticipated process, key considerations, and potential pitfalls to avoid. Once you’ve laid out the facts of your situation to the lawyer, he/she should be able to frame expectations and likely scenarios to help you understand your legal issue.
In general, how much an attorney costs will often depend on these four factors: billing method and pricing structure, type of legal work performed, law firm prestige, and attorney experience. Depending on the legal issue you are facing, an attorney may bill you by the hour, settle on a flat fee, or enter into a contingency fee agreement. The type of legal work you need help with will also play a role in cost incurred.
Personal jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority over a person, in order to bind that person to the judgment of the court, based on minimum contacts. International Shoe Co v. Washington is a landmark Supreme Court case outlining the scope of a state court’s reach in personal jurisdiction.