by James E Crawford Jr. Esq.

The Day They Come to your House or Business”

This blog is part 1 of a series of articles that will address many aspects of child pornography criminal arrest, prosecutions and sentencing in Maryland. My purpose, as a criminal defense lawyer, is to educate and make the public aware of not just the mechanical structure of prosecutions but also all the peripheral issues that typically surround these cases. This first blog is a rendition of the basic law and procedure surrounding state “possession” prosecutions. I will address Federal prosecutions later.

Maryland child pornography basic law:

Section 11 – 207 of the Maryland criminal code governs the offense of child pornography. An individual may not;

  • Cause, induce or allow a minor to participate in the production of obscene matter or performance that depicts a minor engaged in sadomasochistic abuse or sexual conduct.
  • Photograph or film a minor engaging in any of the above conducts.
  • Use a computer to depict or describe a minor engaging in any of the sexual conducts.
  • Knowingly promote, advertise, solicit, distribute, or possess any visual or verbal materials involving a minor engaged in any of the above described sexual conducts.

Penalties and consequences for conviction of child pornography in Maryland

Under Section 11 – 207 when a person is convicted the penalties can be rather severe. If it is a first violation than a potential prison sentence could be up to 10 years and a fine of up to $25,000 or both. Subsequent convictions could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years and possibly a larger fine or both. Undoubtedly, in any child pornography conviction, after any potential jail time most state courts will place individuals on probation. There could be special probationary requirements such as attending education classes, house arrest, reporting to a probation agent, completing the COMET program, seeking continuing therapy and/or counseling, potential polygraph’s, restricted or non-use of the Internet and of course limited access to any minor.

Mandatory Sex Registration

When you are convicted of a child pornography-related crime (federal or state), in almost every scenario you will be required to register as a sex offender in tier 1, 2 or 3. That ranges from 15 years to life. There is no Federal agency that registers individuals. The federal government uses state registries even in Federal cases. There are many state web sites and even Federal web sites such as the National Sex offender Public Website which links to all 50 states including DC.

Possession of Child Pornography

“The day they come to your house or they notify you”

If you suspect that you are under investigation regarding child pornography distribution, manufacturing including possession, or if you have been charged, it is imperative that you contact an attorney as quickly as possible. The steps you take immediately and throughout any potential prosecution will have a major consequential impact on the rest of your life, as well as significant others in your life. A child pornography conviction on a state or federal level is a devastating event. The consequences include potential jail time, lifetime probation and sex registration. This conviction could undoubtedly cause you to lose your job, distance family members, prohibit you from working in the future, prohibit you from obtaining certain housing and cause lifelong disillusionment and embarrassment to yourself from everyone around you.

The detectives that handle these cases on a state level usually work out of the county child sex offense unit and are stationed at the child advocacy center. Many of the rural counties don’t have a child advocacy center. The “game’ is that these detectives want to get to you before you get to a lawyer. The strategy is that they will “shock & awe” you and anyone who is at your house, usually early in the morning by knocking on your door and basically scaring the hell out of you. This is designed purposefully. It’s done for one reason only, to put you in a situation where you will admit right there and then that you looked for, searched, viewed and saved child pornography. Subtle hints are sometimes given by detectives that “others” in the household may be charged if they can’t determine “you” are the culprit. Its a nice way of saying that if you don’t admit to it, then a family member or someone may be charged. Another method to extract information from you is to say “if you cooperate” you wont be charged today. In other words, tell us what we want and we wont put you in cuffs.

It’s a Possessory Legal Issue

In Maryland, like most states, in order to be prosecuted for possession of any type of contraband including CP, the government must prove you possessed same. How do they do that? Well, its not hard. Very similar to CDS drug possession or distribution cases, they must show you had or have actual possession or constitutive possession of the mechanical device that has the CP on it.

Suppose there are 5 electronic devices in the house. Phones, tablets, laptops, computers. etc. They must go through each device and determine who had access to what and who owned each device. A confession makes thing a lot easier for them. Thus, the shock and awe!

How often are child pornography charges levied?

You would be amazed at the number of people in all walks of life that are charged at a state and federal level with child pornography violations. Politicians, athletes, judges, lawyers, doctors and many well-regarded individuals in our society are often charged.

In many ways these types of cases are relatively easy for law enforcement to pursue and investigate. The illegal images are usually traced to a user via his IP address using a peer to peer network. The next thing you know, police and detectives are knocking on your door or place of business at unruly hours.

Child pornography charges are one of the fastest-growing enterprises being prosecuted in our judicial system. Every jurisdiction in Maryland has this issue to deal with, but because of the larger population in some counties, there are many more prosecutions. Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Baltimore city, and Harford County are the leading counties in the number of prosecutions. Other counties such as Montgomery, Howard, and Worcester are close behind. These counties have devoted a large amount of money and resources to try and curb the spreading and use of child pornography via Internet. For example, Anne Arundel County has set up a task strike force unit in Crownsville to deal with these cases. Baltimore County has specific detectives assigned to deal these cases as well. Law enforcement is becoming much more effective in their techniques and catching individuals via the Internet with possessing and distributing CP. Federal and state pornography prosecutions are definitely going up in a fast and furious manner. It is very important that your lawyer understand the prosecutor’s theory of how they are going to effectively prosecute you or at least try to do so. By understanding same, he then can mount an effective defense.

Take Immediate Steps

If you have been charged or are being investigated by federal agents or a state detective, it is imperative that you speak with an experienced CP attorney ASAP. The game between an experienced criminal defense of attorney handling child pornography matters and law enforcement is “who gets to the defendant first”. About 80% of the time law enforcement gets to the defendant first because of the surprise tactics they use to confront the defendant and his family.

They will burst into the home very early in the morning, waking everyone up in the household or go to the defendant’s place of business and put him or her in the situation where they are basically stunned. Most people in that situation tend to talk about what occurred. Most law enforcement agents and detectives know this. They are very skilled at extracting information that is sometimes overextending and inexact.

Their main objective at the first confrontational meeting with you is to obtain a confession regarding possession of the electronic device and or materials. Many times these possessory cases which can turn into manufacturing or distribution charges start out with a simple fact regarding who actually had possession of the electronic device. If law enforcement cannot prove this issue, they will have difficulty proving the case against you.

However, more federal law enforcement officers who are sometimes working with state detectives are delving into the Internet and poking holes through programs and websites which individuals frequent to see child pornography. As stated, many times simple possession cases lead to manufacturing and or distribution of child pornography. Especially when they obtain computers and handheld devices.