Tired after a long day of work or classes, you sit down with your laptop to unwind with some mindless web browsing. You’re surfing around, munching on a snack, one eye on your smartphone, not paying too much attention to what you’re doing. You click on a link or download a file, thinking it will lead you to that one movie or TV show you’ve been meaning to check out – but to your horror, you realize that you’ve accidentally stumbled across child pornography. You close the window immediately, but your heart is pounding. Are the police going to track you down? Could you be criminally prosecuted for your mistake? In this article, the child pornography attorney Lloyd Long will go over Pennsylvania and federal child pornography possession laws, including possible defenses.
Accidentally clicking on a child pornography link puts you into a terrifying legal situation. Sex crimes, particularly those involving children and minors, are some of the most harshly penalized offenses short of homicide and aggravated assault. These sorts of offenses carry a terrible social stigma that’s all but impossible to overcome, and defendants often find themselves shunned and reviled by their friends, family members, and romantic partners, simply for being accused.
Like any other state, Pennsylvania imposes devastating criminal penalties upon defendants who are convicted of or plead guilty to the possession of child pornography. But how is this offense actually defined by the state?
The answer can be found at 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6312, which deals with crimes involving the sexual abuse of children. In particular, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6312(d) specifically addresses child pornography possession. This section of the statute states the following:
“Any person who intentionally views or knowingly possesses or controls any book, magazine, pamphlet, slide, photograph, film, videotape, computer depiction or other material depicting a child under the age of 18 years engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act commits an offense.”
As you can see, the statute specifically notes the intentional or knowing possession of such materials. Just to eliminate any uncertainty or ambiguity regarding the use of these terms, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6312(g) explicitly states the following:
“The deliberate, purposeful, voluntary viewing of material depicting a child under 18 years of age engaging in a prohibited sexual act or in the simulation of such act. The term shall not include the accidental or inadvertent viewing of such material.”
The internet is full of unlabeled and mislabeled content. Some people will even deliberately, maliciously misname the files they share in an attempt to upset or incriminate others. The definitions contained in the statute are intended to protect innocent people against these sorts of attacks and mistakes. With this legal provision in mind, it is probably safe for you to relax if you ever find yourself in this regrettable situation.
That being said, it is critical to prove that the viewing of the material was in fact accidental and not intentional. Toward that end, factors which can be reviewed may include the following:
• How much time did the viewer spend on the site?
• Did the viewer share or distribute any of the files or links which he or she accessed?
• Was the material accessed by the computer’s owner, or by a guest who was using the computer?
Under 18 U.S. Code § 2252A, possession of child pornography may be charged as a federal crime when such possession involves the transit of materials across state lines, including by computer. However, the federal statute, like the Pennsylvania statute, specifies “knowingly” possessing or accessing such materials. Additionally, the statue provides the following affirmative defenses to such charges:
• The defendant possessed fewer than three images.
• The defendant immediately “took reasonable steps to destroy each such image” or “reported the matter to a law enforcement agency and afforded that agency access to each such image,” without letting anyone (other than members of law enforcement) look at the pornographic materials.
While state and federal statutes aim to protect people who accidentally view or access pornographic materials depicting children and minors, it is critical to consult with an experienced defense attorney if you are concerned about a criminal investigation. To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation, call the Philadelphia sex crime lawyers of the law offices of Lloyd Long right away at (215) 302-0171. We represent adults and juveniles.