Child Pornography Charges
Virginia law does not permit residents to possess child pornography. A Virginia resident who intentionally obtains and keeps child pornography in his or her possession, and is convicted under Virginia Code Section 18.2-374.1:1(A), will be guilty of a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail.
If images are downloaded from the internet and stored on your computer you can also be charged with the distribution of child pornography. Distribution of child pornography is punishable with a sentence of up to 20 years, and second and subsequent convictions each require the imposition of a mandatory 5 years of active jail time. VA Code Section 18.2-374.1:1(C).
The 1st Stage of a Child Pornography Case - Execution of a Search Warrant
These charges normally begin with the execution of a search warrant at your home. You will have no notice that this is going to happen. Officers will show up at your door with a paper document, hand it to you, and begin searching your home. This is a scary startling experience for both you and your family.
While searching your home law enforcement will normally keep you and your family in one location with officers assigned to watch you. This is allowed to "maintain the status quo" aka to ensure no one attempts to destroy any evidence or otherwise interfere with the execution of the search warrant.
If You Can Leave You Should
It is important to note that you and your family may actually be able to leave at this point. If you are allowed to leave, you should. Most people however do not know that they are free to leave - it won't feel like you are - and normally don't think to ask. If this was you and you stayed, don't feel bad! Almost everyone in this situation does the same thing.
If You Stay They Will Try to Interrogate You
If you stayed then law enforcement will pull you aside and bring you somewhere isolated from the rest of your family. Here you will be asked if you will agree to answer questions - a consensual encounter. The most important thing you can do at this moment is to invoke your right to remain silent and request to have a lawyer present during any and all questioning. It is important not to answer any questions without a lawyer in these situations because you do not know what is and is not legally relevant - the answers may surprise you. Even the most seemingly benign questions are being asked for a reason, law enforcement knows what they have to prove and how to do it. Any answers you give will be used against you.
The 2nd Stage of a Child Pornography Case - The Investigation
The next step in a child pornography case is the investigation. Your first act during this process should be obtaining a lawyer to represent you while the investigation continues.
During the execution of the search warrant law enforcement most likely confiscated your computers, phones, external storage devices, as well as other electronic devices you may have possessed. Those devices will be held by police to be examined. Depending on the law enforcement agency conducting the investigation this could take weeks or months.
During this time your lawyer will give you a list of tasks to complete while they begin reaching out on your behalf to initiate contact both with the law enforcement agency conducting the investigation, as well as the local prosecutor's office. This is an important step because it:
- Notifies law enforcement that you have a lawyer and stops them from attempting to contact you directly.
- Gives you a better idea of what exactly they are alleging you did, and the evidence they have against you.
- Provides a point of contact for law enforcement in the event charges are brought. Most officer's will agree to give your lawyer a heads up if a charge is brought before coming to arrest you. This allows you and your lawyer to arrange for you to turn yourself in at an agreed upon time and location. This is preferable to having officers show up at your home or work and arresting you in front of your family, friends, and colleagues.
- Having a lawyer at this stage allows you to monitor the progression of the investigation and stay in the know.
The 3rd Stage of a Child Pornography Case - The Forensic Analysis
Depending on what is found the next step will likely be to hire an expert to perform your own forensic analysis of the electronic devices that images and/or videos were found on.
This person will examine the devices for information law enforcement often does not, such as: when the items were downloaded onto the computer, how they were downloaded, if they have ever been viewed, etc. Often images will find their way to your computer or other devices attached to other items you clicked on or downloaded. These images are often deleted by spy-ware and other virus protection software, and you may never have even known they were on your computer.
Since they must prove that you knew of the presence of the images in order to prosecute you and convict you, this can be an important factor in building your defense.
The 4th Stage of a Child Pornography Case - Reviewing the Images Themselves
Your lawyer will also have to make a trip to either the police department or prosecutor's office to view the images themselves to determine if they do in fact constitute child pornography. Whether or not an image constitutes child pornography is one of the most componly litigated issues in child pornography cases. This normally becomes an issue in cases where the identity of the person in the videos and/or photos is unknown.
The 5th Stage of a Child Pornography Case - Managing Your Stress
Child pornography cases are some of the most stressful allegations an individual can face, and it is important to find an attorney with experience handling these types of charges as well as someone you feel comfortable with. Child pornography charges can take a long time to resolve due to the lengthy investigative stage, so make sure to discuss the process with your lawyer so you know what to expect.
Call our office today for a free confidential consultation with a experienced child pornography lawyer.