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What are the Federal Sexual Exploitation of Children Laws?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 22, 2021 | 0 Comments

Sexual exploitation of children under federal law is a separate crime that includes producing child pornography, and defined under 18 U.S.C. §2251. A minor is anyone under the age of 18.

Put simply, anyone who attempts to induce, entice, or persuade a minor to participate in sexual activity with the intent to produce a video, picture or other images, is guilty of the federal crime of sexual exploitation.

You could face prosecution for sexual exploitation of children even in a situation where the illegal activity occurred outside of the United States, but the federal prosecutor must be able to prove you intended to send, or make available, the child pornography material to people here.

What are the Federal Sexual Exploitation of Children Laws?

If you are convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. §2251 sexual exploitation, the penalties are severe, including a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years and the maximum sentence is 30 years in a federal prison.

However, the exact penalties for a conviction for child pornography or sexual exploitation conviction will depend on different factors and the calculation of the federal sentencing guidelines.

Normally, the sentencing will depend on how many images or videos you possessed or distributed, along with the age of the minors, and the type of sexual conduct shown in the images.

There are also some aggravating sentencing enhancements for having a pattern of similar conduct, even in a scenario where you were not previously charged or convicted of a sexual related offense.

To give readers a better understanding, our California sex crime defense attorneys will review the laws below.

What is the Definition of Sexual Exploitation of Children?

Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 2251 makes sexual exploitation of children a federal crime. This statute describes different categories of conduct that are considered child sexual exploitation, and laws out severe punishments for a violation of this law.

In order to give you a better understanding on what exactly is covered within this federal criminal statute, we will provide a definition of the conduct that is prohibited, and review the penalties.

Subdivision (a) of 18 U.S.C. §2251 states the following:

  • “anyone who employs, uses, persuades, entices, or coerces a minor to engage in, or assist another to engage in, or transports a minor in. or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, with the intent that the minor engages in any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of the conduct or to transmit a live visual depiction of such conduct…”

Put simply, this subsection prohibits the production of child pornography that has an element of interstate activity, such as the use of the internal or a mail delivery service.

On a similar note, Subdivision (c) of 18 U.S.C. §2251 states the following:

  • “anyone who employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in, or assist in any sexually explicit conduct outside of the United States or its territories to produce visual depictions.”

The primary distinction in this subdivision is that the conduct must occur outside the United States, or reasonably knowing, that the produced child pornography will be distributed here.

This type of violation normally occurs when a foreign nation produces child porn and then distributes it through the internet to those living in the United States. The penalties are harsh, including a potential life sentence.

What are the Best Defense Strategies?

This is a big umbrella crime and that's basically what the feds are looking at. They're trying to protect children, not just children in the United States, but children across the world.

So, if you or a loved one is getting swept up into a net and they're talking about sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, you know you have a big problem. You know you need a federal criminal defense attorney right away.

I've been handling both state and federal cases now since 1994 on the defense end.  So, I know how to deal with these exploitation of children cases:

  • I know what it takes to win them;
  • I know what it takes to defend them;
  • I know what it takes to negotiate them.

First, we have to sit down and talk about what evidence the prosecutors or police have against you so we can decide whether this is:

  • a case that we're going to fight;
  • whether this is a case we're going to mitigate;
  • whether this is a case we're going to negotiate.

We really have to get all the facts and details and lay them out on the table and then we can really see what we're up against. 

A lot of these big federal criminal sex-related offenses really boil down to figuring out where you stand from the beginning.  A lot of people get all upset and go crazy and they don't even have all of the facts and details yet.

What are the Legal Defenses for Sexual Exploitation of Children?

In most cases of federal child pornography or sexual exploitation, the exact legal defenses can be complex, and you will need a federal criminal lawyer who knows how to challenge the federal prosecutor's evidence on some crucial elements of the crime.

For example, might be able to make an argument that the person depicted in the film or images are not minors.

In many images, it's not always clear and we could use an expert to review the images to show the person depicted could be at least 18 years old.

What are the Legal Defenses for Sexual Exploitation of Children?

Further, we can also closely review the review the evidence to determine if the images prove there was “sexually explicit conduct,” as defined under federal law.

Prosecutors might have possession of nude images as evidence, but they might not show there was some type of sexual activity that is prohibited under federal law.

Another legal defense includes making an argument that government investigators didn't properly conduct a search of your computer or other electronic devices to locate all the potential the evidence.

Perhaps we can prove the images or videos on your computer may not have been knowingly possessed, but were inadvertently obtained, or quickly deleted.

There have been cases where child porn images were mistakenly downloaded. Perhaps we can use computer forensic experts to focus on internet search terms that shows you were not deliberately searching for child pornography images.

Initial Strategy Meeting

So, first we need the facts and details. Once we have that, now we can decide what is the best course of action:

  • What are we facing?
  • What is the worst thing that can happen?

Then we start to work from there. A lot of times, people want to know, how much time am I looking at?  What's the sentence? 

I can give that once I have all the information, but sometimes I need information from the government, as well. Sometimes in these big federal sex-related cases, the government has the information. I talk to them.

 A lot of times the prosecutors will share that information with me and once I have that information, now I sit in a position to start talking about what you're facing, what your best defense is, what are some moves that we can make to help you get the best result.

So, if you're looking at one of these cases pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §2251, under that umbrella, or anything close to that, you've come to the right place. 

Pick the phone up. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you.

Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County and we offer a free case evaluation.

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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