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Federal Appeals Court Broadly Interprets Child Pornography Statute

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.

On appeal, the court rejected the defendant’s arguments, finding that the word “use” in the statute does not only include actively coercing or encouraging a child into sexual activity but also having the child as part of the video, even without the child’s knowledge. Based upon the evidence that the defendant had been making and broadcasting the video to fulfill his sexual desires, the court upheld the conviction, and the defendant will be required to serve out his sentence.

Speak with an Experienced Hillsborough County Child Pornography Lawyer About Your Charges Today

The production, distribution, and possession of child pornography are criminalized under both Florida and Federal law. The exact definition of child pornography may vary based on the jurisdiction where charges are filed. Anyone who is alleged to have violated a child pornography law should lawyer up quickly. Often, charges are brought against a defendant when the government has nowhere near the requisite evidence to obtain a conviction, but charges are pursued anyway in an attempt to extract a plea. If you have been charged with possession of child pornography or another sexual offense, the qualified Florida sex crimes attorneys with the Mayberry Law Firm can help you to fight the charges against you. Navigating a prosecution for a sexual offense can be difficult, but with our advice and representation, you can be comfortable with the legal strategy that we decide to pursue. Our experienced criminal lawyers defend Floridians from a variety of sex crime charges, including the possession of child pornography. Contact our office at 813-444-7435 or email me directly at to discuss your case.

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