What Happens if the FBI or Police Come and Seize Your Computers and Other Devices in a Child Pornography Investigation?
A lot of times people are at home and the FBI and/or police come, knock on the door and serve a search warrant.
They take their computer and all of their electronic devices, including their phone, ask them a bunch of questions about child pornography and downloading child pornography, and whose computer that is and then they leave. They leave them obviously, scared and not knowing exactly what's going to happen next.
To give readers a better understanding on what happens when you computer is seized relating to a child pornography investigation, our California sex crime attorneys are providing an overview below.
Retain a Criminal Lawyer Immediately
What you need to do in that scenario is get to an attorney right away. I handle a lot of these type of cases and what we do is, we call the police up. We find out who's in charge of the investigation.
Whether it's the FBI agents, Homeland Security or a local police department in your area — and then I will also find out whether or not there's a prosecutor involved in the case.
If it's a federal case it will be an Assistant U.S. Attorney. If it's a state case, it will usually be the District Attorney's office and then we'll try to get a time frame on how long it's going to take them to investigate.
Whether it is they're investigating and make a decision whether or not you're going to be charged with child pornography, possession of child pornography, distributing child pornography or any other crime related to the seizure and then we will strategically make defense moves in order to help you.
I will operate as a buffer between you and the police so that you don't answer any more questions that could potentially incriminate you. Then, a lot of times it's a waiting game, where the police have taken whatever they've seized and they're having them analyzed by an expert who's attempting to extract the information from your computers, your phone, tablets or other devices.
A lot of times that takes time. It's not easy. Sometimes they're not able to extract certain things. But in my experience, most of the time if they seize your computer, even if you've deleted something or you have some encryption on it, the experts that they use are going to be able to get in there and find it.
Computer is Analyzed By An Expert
I have seen though, where people have smashed their computers, that sometimes that can cause a problem for them to get in there and actually extract the data out of there and try to use it against you.
But instead of just waiting by yourself, you want to wait with an attorney because they're done extracting all of the information out of there, a lot of times when I've been retained on these cases, I get called by the prosecutors, saying we've extracted all of the information.
We're getting ready to indict your client. We want to know if you're going to cooperate or not, and obviously, most of the time depending on the circumstances, we do want to cooperate because we want to try to keep you out of custody while we deal with the case and minimize any potential damage to you.
If they've got the evidence against you and they're going to be able to prove the case, we want to coordinate with the prosecutor to try to get you released when you make your initial appearance in federal court or get your bail as low as possible if the case is filed in state court.
Potential Severe Legal Consequences
So, if you've got a case where the government has come in and seized your devices, you're looking at potentially going to prison, you're looking at sex registration and whole host of other issues — you want to hire an attorney right away.
Let that attorney work on your behalf so that you can end up with the best possible result in the case and stay out of custody if possible, and not have to spend thousands of dollars on bail — a lot of this can be coordinated by your attorney before a case is ever even filed, especially in the scenario where they're seizing child pornography and trying to use that against you.
As far as whether it will be prosecuted at the state or federal level, is going to depend on a whole host of different factors, but the main factor is how many images they find, how many videos hey find.
The federal government has a threshold amount and once you hit that threshold amount they're going to deal with the case. If it doesn't rise to the level of their criteria, they're just going to let the state deal with the case.
Damage Control by Your Attorney
But having an attorney through the process, in my opinion, is crucial if you want to end up with the best result and try to do damage control as you move forward with your life in defending a child pornography possession case or distribution of child pornography and that definition of distribution of child pornography is a very broad one.
So, a lot of times they can charge you with that. Sometimes you can even be looking at a mandatory minimum in custody depending on what is charged and how the case is handled by your defense attorney.
So, if the FBI, Homeland Security or any other government agencies come in and execute a search warrant at your home, you want to get an attorney right away to start protecting your rights, your interest and your freedom.