Articles Posted in Child Pornography

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Child pornography prosecutions in Florida are often reliant on evidence that was obtained by the issuance of a search warrant. In evaluating Florida child pornography cases, understanding the intricacies of search warrant requirements is crucial. If a prosecution relies upon evidence obtained without a valid warrant, dismissal of the charges may be mandatory. A recent Florida judicial opinion provides valuable insights into the necessary details for a search warrant to issue in such cases.

The case revolves around a Florida detective’s investigation into child pornography that was allegedly possessed by the defendant. The affidavit supporting the search warrant application outlined in detail the detective’s extensive experience in handling cases related to the possession and transmission of child pornography. The investigation, initiated in late 2017, utilized BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, to trace illegal content linked to the defendant’s IP address.

The crux of the affidavit rested on the detective’s use of internet tools designed for investigating crimes against children. Through these tools, he identified specific hash values associated with the Defendant’s P address, indicating the presence of containers/files/folders containing child pornography. Notably, a hash value serves as a unique digital fingerprint for each piece of digital media, supposedly offering law enforcement a tool to identify illegal content with precision.

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In a recent case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in an appeal involving a child pornography conviction. The defendant-appellant was charged and convicted of producing and possessing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(a) and 2252A(a)(5)(b). On appeal, the defendant challenged his conviction on three grounds. First, he contended that the government failed to present sufficient evidence to satisfy the interstate commerce element of 2251(a). Second, he argued that the district court erred in discharging an impaneled-but-not-yet sworn jury in his absence. And third, he claimed that the evidence was legally insufficient to establish production under 2251(a).

The defendant was originally indicted in the Northern District of Florida for the production and possession of child pornography. His trial was originally scheduled to begin in September 2020 in Pensacola, Florida. The judge and both parties agreed to impanel a jury but to hold off on swearing the jury in because of an imminent tropical storm that was set to make landfall. The storm grew in strength, and when it reached Pensacola, it was a Category 2 hurricane. As a result of the storm, there was significant flooding, and internet and phone service were disrupted. Following the passing of the storm, the judge scheduled a teleconference to discuss the next steps, which the defendant was unable to join due to the internet and telephone services not working in the jail. During the teleconference, the judge stated that he planned to continue the trial for three weeks and would ask the current jurors if they would be able to accommodate the new trial schedule. If any of them were unable to do so, he would dismiss the entire jury and impanel a new jury. The defendant’s attorney suggested only changing out the jurors that could not accommodate the new schedule, but the judge declined, ultimately impaneling a new jury despite the defendant moving for the judge to reconsider.

At trial, the alleged victim testified that the defendant was a family friend of her mother and that each summer, her family would visit the defendant and stay at his home in the Florida Panhandle. She further testified that during one of those trips when she was 15, the defendant asked her to undress and took photos of her using a flip phone on at least three occasions. She also testified that the defendant told her he had transferred the photos to his home computer. Several law enforcement officers testified that they had found explicit photos of the alleged victim on the defendant’s home computer. The defendant was convicted on both counts.

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With the advent of high-speed internet, the distribution of photos and video recordings that depict child sex offenses has become an increasingly common issue for law enforcement and the public at large. For media that is shared on the internet, the federal government can assume jurisdiction of a child pornography case. Federal prosecutions for the possession and distribution of child pornography are more common than state prosecutions for such violations. Federal laws that prohibit the possession or distribution of child pornography are not always clear-cut, and individual courts often have the discretion to decide if alleged conduct meets the standard for prosecution under federal law. The Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling that affirmed a conviction based on a seemingly broad definition of child pornography.

The defendant from the recently decided appeal was charged with the production and distribution of child pornography based on video footage that he live-streamed on a social media and video-sharing website. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant produced a video of himself masturbating while in the vicinity of a fully-clothed 11-year-old girl. The video included the defendant panning the camera from his own erect penis to the 11-year-old, who was facing the other way. Based upon his broadcast, the defendant was arrested and charged with the production of child pornography.,

The defendant challenged the charges at trial, arguing that the video he shared did not include any images of children without clothes or engaged in any sort of sexual activity. Based upon the wording of the relevant statute, which prohibited videos that use a minor to produce a visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct, the charges were pursued, and the man was convicted of the crimes as charged. The defendant was sentenced to over 50 years in federal prison. The defendant appealed his conviction to the Eleventh Circuit, arguing that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute was not proper, as the defendant was only filming the child in a benign scenario, and the video of himself masturbating was distinct from the video of the fully-clothed child.

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The federal sentencing guidelines offer a framework for judges to utilize when determining the sentence of an individual convicted of a federal crime. Sentencing guidelines generally incorporate both aggravating and mitigating circumstances surrounding the defendant’s history or conduct in order to modify the sentencing judge’s discretion in accordance with congressional actions that have determined the guidelines.

In sexual offenses, especially those involving children, the range of sentences available can vary greatly based on the application of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances anticipated by the guidelines. A Florida man recently convicted of possession of child pornography successfully challenged the application of an aggravating factor that would have increased the minimum sentence for his crimes by 10 years.

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged and convicted in federal court with possession and distribution of child pornography based on files that were obtained from his computer. Before he was sentenced for the crimes, a presentence report was submitted, which proposed a sentencing enhancement based upon a prior Florida state conviction for traveling to engage in illegal sexual activity with a minor. The defendant objected to the application of the enhancement, arguing that the statute he was sentenced under for the proper offense was too broadly written to be included as an aggravating offense under the federal sentencing guidelines.

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Both United States Federal Courts and Florida state courts consider many factors when issuing a sentence after a criminal conviction. Generally, courts will apply factors that relate to the charged crime specifically, as well as factors relating to the defendant’s criminal history, character, and ongoing risk to the public. Sentencing guidelines use a sentencing matrix that considers all of the aggravating and mitigating factors and produces a suggested sentencing range, which judges should generally follow. A Florida man convicted of possessing child pornography recently appealed his sentence for improperly applying aggravating factors at his sentencing.

The defendant in the recently decided case was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and animal abuse after authorities found child pornography in an online storage folder attributed to the defendant. After obtaining a warrant and searching the defendant’s home, authorities found more child pornography, as well as animal sexual abuse videos. The defendant admitted the videos belonged to him and was charged in federal court with multiple sexual crimes.

The defendant pleaded guilty to the charges. During sentencing, the court applied the guideline factors to the defendant’s specific situation, and he was sentenced to over 21 years in federal prison. The defendant appealed the sentencing to the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, arguing that an aggravating factor was improperly applied during his sentencing.

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The United States Congress and federal courts have developed a legal framework for prosecuting people suspected of engaging in the production of pornographic materials involving children. In order for federal child pornography charges to be applicable to an alleged crime, prosecutors must prove that the federal government has jurisdiction over the alleged crime. The Eleventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals recently released an opinion affirming a man’s federal child pornography conviction, which the court assumed jurisdiction over based on the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

According to facts discussed in the recently published appellate opinion, the defendant was arrested and charged for attempting to produce child pornography in Florida after he allegedly sent disturbing messages to the users of a parenting website. The defendant, posting under an alias, appeared to have requested pornographic material from several different parents who had been discussing their children on the website. A concerned user reported the defendant to law enforcement, who obtained a warrant and searched his home. Images of child pornography and other sexually disturbing material involving children were found at the home. The defendant was then charged in federal court for attempting to entice parents to produce child pornography and send it to him over the internet. Based on his clear requests and other evidence of his sexual interest in children, a jury convicted him on the attempted production counts, and he was sentenced to decades in federal prison.

The defendant appealed his conviction to the 11th Circuit. The defendant argued primarily that his conduct was not a sincere attempt to obtain child pornography and was acting only as an “internet troll” who was being abrasive and offensive just to upset people for his own entertainment. The defendant argued that there was no real chance that any of these parents would follow his request and produce child pornography for him involving their children. The Appeals court was not persuaded by the defendant’s arguments. The court held that his desire to possess child pornography (demonstrated by his actual possession of such images at his home), coupled with his repeated, explicit requests for such material online, constituted sufficient evidence from which a jury could convict him. As a result of the appellate decision, the defendant will most likely be required to serve his federal prison term.

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