The prevalence of internet accessibility and focused law enforcement efforts has led to an increasing number of individuals charged with child pornography related offenses. The attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard routinely represent people that are the subject of investigation or charged as defendants in both state and federal criminal cases involving allegation of possession, distribution, and manufacture of child pornography. The frequently asked questions below are some of the most common inquiries our firm receives regarding these types of cases.   

What is child pornography?

Child pornography is a serious crime that is illegal under federal and North Carolina state law. It is a form of child sexual exploitation and is defined by federal law as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (a person under 18 years old).

Federal law prohibits the production, reception, distribution, importation, or possession of images depicting a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. Such images can include photographs, videos, digital or computer-generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor, images created to depict an actual minor, and undeveloped film, videotape, and electronically stored data.

Is child pornography a state or federal crime?

Both. There are a number of offenses in both North Carolina and federal courts for child pornography offenses. For that reason, an individual caught with these types of images can be prosecuted either in state court or federal court, or, in some cases, both. When identifying an attorney to help you with your case, it is wise to retain a firm like Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard that has experience handling child porn cases in both state and federal court and can defend you in either jurisdiction. 

Both state and federal agencies have designated internet crime and child exploitation divisions responsible for investigating child porn cases. These agencies can bring criminal charges in either state and federal courts.  Under North Carolina law, child pornography crimes are defined as Sexual Exploitation of a Minor. There are three degrees of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor: First, Second, and Third. The most serious, First Degree Sexual Exploitation, involves the manufacture or production of child pornography.  Second Degree Sexual Exploitation covers the distribution and receipt of child pornography, while Third Degree Sexual Exploitation criminalizes the mere possession of child pornography. All three degrees of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor are serious felonies that, upon conviction, can lead to prison sentences and require registration as a sex offender.  It is important to remember that the same sexually explicit images of children that violate North Carolina’s laws are also violations of federal law and can lead to federal prosecution. The nature of the contraband images and the number of images involved in the investigation can sometimes determine whether charges that originate in state court are later adopted by the United States Attorney’s Office and prosecuted in federal court. 

What are the punishments for child porn?

The potential punishments for child porn offenses vary widely, and are highly dependent on whether the case is prosecuted in State or Federal Courts.  If convicted under North Carolina law as Second or Third Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, a sentence of probation is a possible outcome. However, if a child pornography case is adopted for federal prosecution, the punishment becomes much harsher.  In most federal cases, the minimum punishment available is 5 years in prison with the possibility of a significantly longer sentence. Because of the huge differences in potential punishments between state and federal court, it is vitally important to get the attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard involved in a child pornography case at an early stage.  We can work to try to convince investigators or federal prosecutors that the case should remain in state court for resolution.

What if I have accidentally viewed or downloaded child pornography?

If you have accidentally viewed or downloaded child pornography, you should contact an attorney immediately.  State and federal statutes criminalizing child pornography do provide exemptions for self-reporting in certain, limited circumstances.  The attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard can act immediately to contact the appropriate law enforcement officers and prosecutors to seek the protection these laws afford.

What should I do if the police contact me about child porn allegations?

Be polite but do not answer any questions. Do not voluntarily consent to a search of your residence or your electronic devices. Respectfully get the name and contact information of the investigators and then immediately contact a lawyer experienced in handling these types of cases. The sooner the attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard can get involved, the more we can help and the less likely it is that you unknowingly provide incriminating statements or evidence.  

What should I do if the police seize my computer?

Often child pornography investigations begin with execution of a search warrant. If contacted by law enforcement, contact an attorney immediately. Do not answer any questions or make any statements. Politely ask to see a copy of the search warrant. Officers will begin to execute the warrant by collecting and removing any devices or other property listed in the search warrant for further examination.  

Even if you believe that your computer or other electronic devices do not currently contain evidence of contraband images, you need to retain a lawyer. Generally, a computer device seized through a search warrant and thought to contain child pornography will be subject to a digital forensic examination which can discover data thought to be deleted, hidden, or encrypted. The attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard have experience handling child pornography investigations and have been able to favorably influence the direction or outcome of investigations before charges are filed, if contacted at an early stage.  

If convicted of a child porn offense, do I have to register as a sex offender?

Child pornography offenses, whether it is Sexual Exploitation of a Minor in North Carolina courts or federal child pornography offenses, require registration as a sex offender if convicted.  Under current sex offender registry law, the initial term of registration if convicted of possession or receipt of child pornography is 30 years. However, the law does allow an offender to petition the court to be removed from the sex offender registry after 10 years under certain conditions.  In order to understand the full impacts of sex offender registration, including restrictions on residences, occupations, and prohibitions on where offenders can go, contact Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard. Our attorneys have assisted clients in a vast array of scenarios navigate issues with the sex offender registry.  

The attorneys at Dysart Willis Houchin & Hubbard have decades of combined experienced handling state and federal cases involving charges of child pornography. If you have questions or need immediate assistance with an urgent matter, we are available by phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.