Possession of child pornography is a very serious charge that carries serious jail time as well as a SORNA registration requirement. These charges are extremely embarrassing for clients and can result in feelings of isolation from within the community, termination from their place of employment, divorce, and turning to drugs and/or alcohol for escape. Having your name plastered all over the internet and newspaper is humiliating for the client and worrisome as there are certain to be repercussions.
The first question I usually get is “why meÉ why now?” Often times, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children will tip off Law Enforcement as there are a number of known websites that contain child pornography images. Law Enforcement will contact your internet service provider and obtain your home address obtained through the subpoena process. The subscriber has a unique IP address that identifies the user whenever a website is accessed. Next thing you know you've got a police officer knocking at your door. They may or may not have a search warrant and they will always want to speak with you about your downloads of child pornography.
Now, the first thing is never ever, ever speak with Law Enforcement about your case. There is a process that they use to bring you in, to make you feel comfortable, to minimize the offense to make you think that everything is going to be okay. When they've got you admitting to the conduct, they pull the rug out from under you and charge you with the crime. So, do not speak with Law Enforcement. Often times your admissions to knowingly viewing and possessing child pornography is what cements the case against you.
Oftentimes the police will ask for your permission to seize your computers. They may say, “We'd like to take your computersÉ do you have any issue with that? Can you sign a consent for us to either view or search your computers?” The answer is always no. Unless the police have a valid search warrant, you should tell them no. Cease contact with law enforcement and immediately contact a criminal defense attorney.
Another common question people have is “what constitutes possession of child pornography?” Under the Federal Law, possession can be just viewing images or videos containing child pornography. In Maine, until very recently, possession was actual possession either of physical pictures or actual files on your computer that contained images of child pornography. Therefore, if you view child pornography on a website, even if you don't download those images to your laptop computer, you can and will be charged with viewing or possession of child pornography. These are very serious charges. Often times, we see them on the Federal side, though just as often we might see them on the State side. Of course the government must prove that you intended to view and/or possess the child pornography images. In addition, they have to prove that each and every photograph contains an image of an actual child vs. a digitized/fictitious child image.
Finally, people may ask “what is the big deal with viewing pornographic images of children? I'm not touching them or abusing them and I'm doing it in the privacy of my home. Why is my conduct criminalized?” Well, aside from the myriad of moral issues concerning these cases, there is a victimization aspect here where every time the image of that child is viewed, the child is re-victimized time and time again. Law Enforcement and prosecutors take a very negative view of people who view child pornography and there is very little if any sympathy for people accused of these crimes. Do not minimize these charges. They are very serious. A conviction may result in a mandatory SORNA registration, which means wherever you go in life, you will be forced to update your registration info when you move into a new community. Anyone in the community can look you up and see what the charge was that you're convicted of, which resulted in the SORNA registration. Good luck finding meaningful employment. Good luck with maintaining a normal family life. Good luck leading a normal life period if you end up convicted of possession of child pornography or any serious sex offense for that matter.
Better your chances for a successful resolution of your case by getting a criminal defense attorney involved immediately upon your first contact with law enforcement.