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Federal Search Warrants for Child Pornography

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jul 12, 2021

Suppose you are found possessing, producing, selling, distributing, or transporting any obscene material depicting a child under 18 years old in a sexually explicit manner. In that case, you could be charged with federal child pornography under 18 U.S.C. § 2252.

This statute also makes it a federal crime to download child porn from a website or share the images with other internet users through a file-sharing service.

There are jurisdictional requirements that must satisfy to charge someone with a federal child porn crime, rather than the much more common charges under state laws, such as California Penal Code 311 PC.

Federal Search Warrants for Child Pornography

Child pornography is any pictures of graphic nudity or videos depicting children in sexual activity for sexual gratification.

Readers should note that It's only considered child porn if the individual in the images or videos is indistinguishable from a child.

Put simply, an ordinary person viewing the depiction would have to reasonably conclude it's an actual minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct (18 U.S.C. § 2256).  

Under 18 U.S.C. § 2252, depictions must be child pornography with actual minors, not drawings or computer-generated images.

Peer-to-peer networks are a massive issue within child pornography laws under the federal system. If prosecutors can prove you distributed child porn online, you will be facing a harsh federal prison sentence.

Sometimes, people using peer-to-peer networks don't even know accessing the network opens their computer files where other members can download their files, which contain child porn images.

Put simply, if anyone, including a federal law enforcement agent, can download child porn material from your computer, you could be convicted of the more severe charge of distribution of child pornography.

Our California sex crime defense lawyers are providing an overview below for more information.

Penalties for a Federal Child Porn Conviction

Under 18 U.S.C. § 2252, the penalties are described as whoever violated, attempted, or conspired to violate federal child pornography laws will be:

  • sentenced to 5 to 20 years in federal prison,
  • large fines,
  • sex offender registration.

If there are subsequent child porn violations, the sentence could be increased to up to 40 years in federal prison.

If convicted of simple possession of child pornography, you could be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison, but any further violations will carry a 20-year sentence.

If the child pornography images depict children under 12 years old, you could receive a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

What are the Related Crimes?

  • 18 U.S.C. § 1462 – Importing or transporting obscene matters,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1465 – Transporting obscene matters for sale or distribution,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1470 – Transferring obscene material to minors,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2251 – Sexual exploitation of children,
  • 18 U.S.C. § 2251A – Selling and buying of children.

What Happens If the Feds Execute a Search Warrant Looking for Child Pornography at Your House?

This is a big question that a lot of people have when the feds come, execute a search warrant and:

  • seize their computers,
  • seize their phones,
  • seize their tablets,
  • ask them questions to pin them into whatever devices they take.

So, if they find child pornography downloaded on them or trace that IP back to other child pornography that they're able to discover for the reason they came to their house, that would undoubtedly be a good piece of evidence to use against them.

Put simply, what they're trying to do with a search warrant is catch the person:

  • having downloaded child pornography,
  • having distributed or transported child porn,
  • producing or creating child porn, and
  • selling child pornography.

These are all of the things that they're looking for. What happens is, they're going to take the devices that they seize and have them forensically examined.

Prefiling Intervention - Negotiation with Federal Prosecutor

So, your best bet is to hire a criminal defense attorney right away and let them call the federal agents who executed the search warrant, talk to them, let them know that you're represented.

Also, your lawyer can see if there's a prosecutor on the case because once they examine those devices and find child pornography or evidence of a sex crime on there, they're going to come and arrest you. 

However, if you have an attorney, what they could do and what happens a lot of times when I handle these cases, the prosecutors will call me up and say look:

  • we found child pornography on your client's computer;
  • here's how many images we found;
  • we also found child porn videos;
  • we found a lot of child porn photographs, and 
  • instead of us arresting your client, we'd like to arrange for a pre-indictment resolution. 

Put simply; this means before they even indict you, before they even file charges against you, they're going to engage in negotiations with you.  They're going to offer you a plea agreement to settle the case.

Federal Plea Agreements and Posting Bond

This does a lot of things. I've seen them say that we have your client for distribution, which is a five-year mandatory minimum, for example. 

If your client pleads early and doesn't trouble us, we won't charge them with the distribution.  We'll set them with possession, which carries no mandatory minimum. 

So, that's one example of having an attorney that would benefit you.

Another thing they can do, instead of coming and arresting you, saying you might be facing a mandatory minimum and telling the judge that you should be detained and not be able to get out, sometimes they'll agree to:

  • a signature bond,
  • a property bond, or
  • some other way that you can get out of custody.

If that occurs, then you're almost guaranteed of getting out. It will ultimately be up to the judge, and of course, the probation department will weigh in. 

They'll report to the judge and suggest to the judge. But if the prosecutor and your defense attorney are saying you should get out, there's a good chance the judge will let you out.

How Long Does the Child Porn Investigation Take?

So, what's going to happen right away is they're going to take all your electronic devices to be examined for child pornography.

How long that will take and what will happen to you is up in the air. It's not always the same. 

Sometimes I've seen it take a brief period; other times, I've seen it take as long as a year.

If there's some encryption on the computer or they have to get by a password, now they're going to have to give it to the forensic people that have a long line of computers, devices that they're waiting to examine.

Criminal Defense for Federal Child Pornography

Once again, your best bet is to hire a criminal defense lawyer because they can work things out for your right away. Maybe you have some defense; perhaps you're innocent. 

That attorney can start investigating and building that defense before filing a case against you, known as a prefiling intervention.

So, they're going to examine everything, they're going to make a filing decision, and you want to have your attorney right there by your side to make sure that you're treated fairly and you get the best possible result.

So, if the police, the feds, a combination of the feds and the police had executed a search warrant at your home, seized your devices, asked you questions, accused you of downloading child pornography, chapping on some app, whatever the case may be, pick up the phone, ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. 

I've been handling these types of cases since their inception, and I've been a sex crime attorney for almost thirty years. You've come to the right place. Take the first step. Make the call.

Hedding Law Firm has two office locations in LA County, including 2049 Century Park E #2525, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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