Federal Definition of Child Pornography
United States Code Section 2256 of Title 18 defines child pornography and spells out what a child pornography crime is at the federal level. The definition of child pornography is broad. Any type of visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct that involves a minor is child pornography. A minor is anybody who is younger than 18 at the time the visual representation was recorded.
A visual depiction of a child could include a digital or computer-generated image that is indistinguishable from an actual child. It can also include photos and videos of actual minors. The photos or recordings may be adapted or modified. As long as they appear to depict a child in a sexually explicit manner, they are child pornography. Videotape, film and electronic data that could be turned into a sexually explicit image of a child is also child pornography.
Note that the minor does not have to be engaged in a sexual act in order for their image to be considered child pornography. A photo of a nude child can be considered child pornography if it is sexually suggestive. For example, a photo of a naked child in a medical textbook to show a variation of anatomy is not child pornography, but a naked child with exposed genitalia generally is considered to be child pornography.
Even if the age of consent in the state where the child’s image was recorded is less than 18, this does not matter under federal law. Any type of depiction of a minor engaged in sexual conduct is illegal and can be prosecuted.
Who Investigates Child Pornography Crimes
According to the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the primary federal agency for investigating child pornography. The FBI often works in tandem with state and local criminal investigators. If a defendant is part of a group of people engaged in child pornography, the FBI makes the connections and gathers the evidence, such as internet and cell phone records. The FBI and local authorities together make arrests of people charged with child pornography. Prosecution of federal child pornography charges typically takes place in a district court, and it may not be in the same state as where the defendant lives.
Types of Child Pornography Crimes
There are many types of child pornography crimes prosecuted by the federal government. Sexually explicit images or recordings of a child are the most common type of child pornography crime. Possessing them or distributing these images is a crime. Creating such images using software on a computer is also a crime. Transporting a child across state borders or international borders with the intent of creating images or recordings of a sexually explicit nature is illegal. Sharing sexually explicit images of a child, including through the internet, by phone or in print, is a federal crime.
Possible Defenses to Federal Prosecution of Child Pornography
There are a few defenses to child pornography charges a lawyer may use in court. One is that while a person may appear to be young, they may have been 18 years old at the time of the recording of video or images. Another possible defense relates to the subjective nature of what is sexually explicit.
What the Government Must Prove to Prosecute Child Pornography Crimes
To prosecute child pornography crimes, the federal government must prove that a person was in possession of or created sexually explicit images or recordings of a child. This may involve electronic evidence on a computer hard drive or a phone. It could also include printed evidence or records of the purchase or sale of a child for the purposes of child pornography. The government’s burden of proof for intent in the case of child pornography charges is low because of the vulnerability of minors.
Sentencing for Convictions on Child Pornography Charges
A person convicted of producing child pornography faces severe sentencing guidelines. They may be sentenced to a prison term of no less than 15 years. A conviction for transporting or distributing child pornography may result in prison sentences of five to 15 years. If the images were violent in nature, the duration of the prison term increases.