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Federal Child Pornography Law: A Texas Citizen’s Guide

federal and state child pornography law
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Federal Child Pornography Law: A Texas Citizen’s Guide

What federal & state laws apply to child porn crimes? What constitutes child pornography? What are the punishments? Answers to common questions and expert legal advice.

If you’ve been snared in a widespread Internet sex sting or face another charge simply for using your computer, you should know about federal child pornography law according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Here’s an overview to help you understand the law.

Child Porn Charges: Federal & State Laws Both Apply

First, you should know that child pornography offenders can be prosecuted under state child pornography laws in addition to federal child pornography laws.

So even though state pornography laws may apply, as in Texas, any person who conspires or tries to commit a child pornography offense is also subject to prosecution under federal child pornography laws.

In terms of federal laws, it’s important to know that having child pornography images on your computer or elsewhere is not protected under the First Amendment’s right to free speech or free press. Rather, such images are illegal contraband.

What Constitutes Illegal Visual Depictions of Sexually Explicit Conduct?

Which federal laws apply to child pornography? Let’s start with Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, which defines child pornography as any visual depictions of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor, which is a person below 18 years old.

Such “visual depictions” can include videos, photos and computer-generated or digital images which are indistinguishable from an actual minor, as well as images which were created, adapted or modified yet appear to depict an identifiable minor. Federal law also considers any undeveloped videotape, undeveloped film or electronically stored data which can be converted into a visual image of child pornography illegal.

As for what constitutes “sexually explicit conduct,” by federal law this doesn’t require that an image depicts a child actually engaging in sexual activity. A photo of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if the image is sufficiently sexually suggestive.

Also, the so-called “age of consent” for sexual activity in a particular state is irrelevant to this law, which holds that any depiction of a minor below 18 years old who is engaged in sexually explicit activity is illegal. In Texas, the age of consent is 17 years old.

Production, Distribution and Possession of Child Sex Images

Under federal law, it is also illegal to produce, receive, distribute or possess images of child pornography which uses or affects any means or facility of interstate or foreign commerce (18 U.S.C. § 2251; 18 U.S.C. § 2252; 18 U.S.C. § 2252A).

Under Section 2251, it is illegal to entice, induce, coerce or persuade a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of that conduct.

If a child pornography offense happened as part of interstate or foreign commerce, federal jurisdiction is implicated. That includes using the U.S. Postal Service or other common carriers to transport child pornography images across state lines or across international borders.

Also, federal jurisdiction invariably applies when a child pornography violation is committed by using the Internet. If a computer employed to download a child pornography image or a CD-ROM employed to store an image originated or previously traveled in interstate or foreign commerce, federal law applies.

Section 2251A of Title 18 of the U.S. Code also specifically prohibits any parent, legal guardian or other person who is in custody or control of a minor below 18 years old to buy, sell or transfer custody of that minor for the purpose of producing child pornography.

Also, Section 2260 of Title 18 prohibits anyone outside the U.S. to produce, receive, transport, ship or distribute child pornography knowingly with the intent to transmit or import its visual depiction to the U.S.

Federal Child Porn Penalties Are Severe

Persons charged with federal child porn offenses can face severe federal child porn penalties. In fact, as Neal Davis writes, some child porn sentences can be unreasonable.

A first-time offender who has been convicted of producing child pornography faces steep fines and a statutory prison sentence of at least 15 years and as much as 30 years.

A first-time offender who has been convicted of transporting child pornography in interstate or foreign commerce faces hefty fines and 5 to 20 years in prison.

Convicted child porn offenders may also face even more harsh penalties if they have previous convictions for child pornography or if their child pornography offense happened in an “aggravated” manner. That means the images are violent, sadistic or masochistic in nature, or the minor was sexually abused or the offender had prior convictions for child sexual exploitation.

Persons found guilty of such a crime could face life in prison.

High-Profile Federal Child Pornography Offenders

Serious child porn charges can impact almost anyone – including those who are famous and supposedly more powerful. A notorious recent example of federal child pornography law affecting a high-profile person is first-time offender Mark Salling, a Hollywood actor – born and raised in Texas – who starred on the hit Fox series Glee.

Salling now faces four to seven years in prison for possessing child pornography on his computer. In addition, he must pay $50,000 in restitution to each of his sex crime’s victims who request it, must register as a sex offender and, even after leaving prison, must have 20 years of supervised release.

Do You Need a Houston Child Pornography Lawyer?

If you or a loved one faces federal charges for possession or distribution of child pornography, you need to seek experienced legal help. Contact veteran Houston child porn defense attorney Neal Davis today and you’ll receive a free legal review of your case.

Whether you live in Harris County, Montgomery County or Fort  Bend County, Neal Davis stands ready to help - as he has already helped many of his previous defendants in cases like yours.

Let’s get started protecting you from unfair and unjust punishments under Texas or federal child pornography laws.

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