Oct 2011

Internet Child Pornography: More Than Meets The Eye?

The internet can be a very scary and dangerous place, but not for the reasons that first meet the eye. There are many ways to break the law on the world wide web, and the internet is loaded with traps for the unwary. However, there is nothing on line that is as fraught with peril, danger, and confusion as internet sex crimes. Charges include internet stings, solicitation of a minor (or child sexually abusive activity), sexting, downloading child pornography (or child sexually abusive material), and sending photos, videos or messages email, texts, instant message, or a chat room. The charge can come from state prosecutors, or in federal court where you find high mandatory minimum sentences and outrageous sentencing guidelines. That’s right, even downloading the wrong thing can land you in court, facing felony charges and serious prison time. No one is arguing that these laws are not important, or do not need enforcement. Nevertheless, the pendulum has swung way too far, and many cases deserve a second look.

A Very Serious Crime

Internet sex crimes involving children are aggressively prosecuted by state prosecutors and federal assistant United States attorneys. Internet solicitation and child pornography is a very serious crime, and under both Michigan and Federal laws, you could face mandatory minimums and up to 20 years in prison if convicted – not to mention a possible lifetime sex offender registration. As the power and popularity of the internet has grown, so has the efforts of law enforcement to prosecute internet sex crimes and possession/distribution of child pornography.

The problem is that you don’t have to be a dangerous pedophile to find yourself in serious trouble. For instance, take the guy who is playing out a fantasy in an internet chatroom, who never had any intention to actually ever meet “cheerleader_gurl,” and who thought she was a 37 year old soccer mom playing out a fantasy too. Is that person really a criminal? Even after a highly trained detective slowly manipulates him into meeting for sex, is he really any more dangerous? What about the junk mail or spam that most of us receive daily on our computers? Is it possible to open and download an email that may contain pornographic material? Absolutely. Yet, one click of the mouse in the wrong direction and you could find yourself in a heap of trouble. What about virtual porn – a computer image that is not even a real person? While aggressive efforts at arresting offenders who hurt our children are necessary and admirable, the net has become so wide that we scoop up our law abiding citizens as well. After all, before you are even convicted, the stigma associated with these charges attaches like a scarlet letter the moment you are charged and arrested.

Sting Operations and the Impact on Prosecutions

As a tool for targeting and arresting those suspected of violating Michigan and Federal internet child pornography laws, local law enforcement, in tandem with federal agents, conduct aggressive internet sting operations. Agents pretend to be children and visit internet chat rooms or pose as people interested in purchasing, selling or trading child pornography. While sting operations have led to several arrests, how many of these “virtual” defendants would have actually committed a crime without the “help” or prodding of these sting operations.

Recently, in addition to sting operations, there’s a media frenzy surrounding internet and children. A perfect example- the popularity of MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator”. In many of these cases, targeted “predators” are lured by actors who make money sensationalizing dramatic events. Perhaps many of these prosecutions were legit, perhaps not, but we never actually see the follow up details on the show.

Internet sex crimes demand aggressive defense from an experienced Internet sex crimes lawyer. Remember, it’s entirely possible to defend against these charges, and you have every right to protect your rights. If you or someone you know is charged with a sex crime involving the internet, contact the offices of Satawa Law where their experience defending those charged with internet sex crimes can help avoid conviction, incarceration, and a lifetime on the registry.

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