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What are the Federal Sexual Exploitation of Children Laws?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Sep 22, 2021

Sexual exploitation of children under federal law is a separate crime that includes child pornography and is 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. Still, the federal prosecutor must 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 a maximum sentence is 30 years in federal prison.

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

Usually, the sentencing will depend on how many images or videos you possess or distribute, along with the age of the minors and the type of sexual conduct shown in the photos.

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 sexually related offense.

Our California sex crime defense attorneys will review the laws below to give readers a better understanding.

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 considered child sexual exploitation and laws out severe punishments for violating this law.

To better understand what is covered within this federal criminal statute, we will define 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 to produce 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 typically 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 is 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 worldwide.

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 state and federal cases now since 1994 on the defensive end.  So, I know how to deal with this 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 have to get all the facts and details and lay them out on the table, and then we can see what we're up against. 

Many of these significant federal criminal sex-related offenses boil down to figuring out where you stand from the beginning.  Many people get upset, go crazy, and don't even have the facts and details yet.

What are the Legal Defenses for Sexual Exploitation of Children?

In most federal child pornography or sexual exploitation cases, 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, one might be able to make an argument that the person depicted in the film or images is not minors.

In many images, it's not always clear, and we could use an expert to review the photos 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 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 some sexual activity that is prohibited under federal law.

Another legal defense includes arguing that government investigators didn't correctly search your computer or other electronic devices to locate potential 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 show 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 the best course of action is:

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

Then we start working from there. Many times, people want to know how much time I'm looking at.  What's the sentence?  I can give that once I have all the information, but sometimes I need information from the government. Sometimes, in these significant federal sex-related cases, the government has the lead. I talk to them.

 A lot of times, the prosecutors share that information with me, and once I have that information, I'm in a position to start talking about what you're facing, what your best defense is, and what moves we can make to help you get the best result. So, if you're looking at one of these cases under 18 U.S.C. §2251, under that umbrella, or anything close to that, you've come to the right place. 

Pick up the phone and 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.

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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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Hedding Law Firm is committed to answering your questions about state or federal sex crime issues in California and throughout the United States.

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