Understanding how child pornography is investigated in Pennsylvania is essential if there are allegations against you or you face charges of possession or a related crime. These investigations often focus on online activity and file sharing, making them more complex than in years past. The government has many high-tech tools they use to build these cases.
If you learn you are under investigation or the police want to question you about child pornography in Pennsylvania, it is time to call on a Pennyslvania criminal defense lawyer from McKenzie Law Firm, P.C. Having a lawyer on your side is the best way to ensure you get treated fairly throughout this process.
Understanding Modern Child Pornography Investigations in Pennsylvania
Child pornography cases may be handled by state or federal agencies, meaning the investigators could be officers from Pennsylvania or the federal government. Often, these agencies work together to develop strong cases against those they find violating child pornography laws.
In the past, the only options for producing, sharing, and possessing pornography were hard copies, such as photographs, videotapes, and magazines. Today, most pornography is online. This has dramatically changed how these investigations work.
Child pornography investigators often identify suspects through sting operations. They create a username or use an existing member’s credentials to join a peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing network where these files are often traded.
As a user in the system, they can peruse files until they identify child pornography. From there, they have sophisticated programs to help them understand who created the file and shared it. Their methods are effective even if the suspect deletes the file or password protects access.
Tracking the Location
Agencies investigating these crimes have programs that allow them to work around password-protected folders and avoid detection while investigating any files they discover. They look in shared folders where these parties upload, save, and view illegal files to identify those who created, shared, and viewed them.
These programs allow the investigators to determine each user’s unique IP address, which their internet service provider can link to a physical address.
Getting a Search Warrant
Once the investigators know the IP address of the suspect, they can subpoena the internet service provider to get their name and address. This, along with the digital evidence collected, usually allows the investigating agency to request a search warrant for their home and devices.
The agency will carry out this search warrant, usually taking any computers, cell phones, tablets, electronic media, and hard-copy documents that could support the case. Forensic evidence on these devices will play a key role in most child porn prosecutions.
Questioning the Suspect
The last step in this investigation is generally talking to the suspect about their alleged involvement with child pornography. This is usually done by officers affiliated with the investigating agency. The suspect can—and should—have a criminal defense attorney present during this meeting.
Following the interrogation of the suspect, the investigating agency could arrest them. This could lead to child pornography legal charges in Pennsylvania or on a federal level.
How Does a Child Pornography Investigation Determine the Child’s Age?
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it is illegal to view, download, distribute, or produce child porn. This is classified as any pornographic material that includes a minor under the age of 18.
Sometimes, it is difficult to determine the age of the parties in these files. Trading pornographic images that feature only adults is generally acceptable, making it necessary to be sure about the age of those featured in these images. A lot of child pornography features younger children, from about age six through age 12, so this is not an issue in every case.
When there is a question of age, the investigating agency may attempt to identify the party or present the party’s birth records. Alternatively, prosecutors will use expert testimony to determine their age. It is important to note that Pennsylvania law does not allow ignorance of the child’s age as a defense.
What Should I Do If I Am Subject to a Pennsylvania Child Pornography Investigation?
If investigators from a state or federal agency are investigating you for child pornography, you need to act quickly. Absconding, attempting to delete files, or taking other measures that could disrupt the investigation will not help. Instead, call a criminal defense lawyer in your area who handles these cases frequently. They will protect your rights and develop a strong defense for a better possible outcome in your case.
You must take the proper steps now to prevent future difficulties. Conviction of a crime related to child pornography is serious. It could ruin your reputation, send you to prison, and cost you your job and relationships.
Possible penalties if convicted could include:
- Viewing or sharing child pornography could call for up to five years behind bars
- Filming or otherwise creating child pornography could result in up to ten years in prison
You might also have to pay fines, register as a sex offender, and complete other court-ordered treatment or educational courses.
Possible Defenses in a Pennsylvania Child Pornography Investigation
If you face charges based on the investigation, your child pornography defense attorney will develop a strong argument to clear your name or reduce the potential sentence you could face. Some common defenses in these cases include:
- The materials are used for educational, research, or other legitimate purposes
- The suspect was a minor and producing, sharing, or viewing images of their own body and acts
- The suspect was a minor viewing, filming, or sharing content of another minor who is at least 12 years old
- The suspect viewed or shared the images or footage accidentally or involuntarily
Contact a Pennsylvania Child Pornography Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are the subject of a Pennsylvania child pornography investigation, a solid criminal defense team on your side can help. You can count on our McKenzie Law Firm, P.C. lawyer to represent you. Contact us today to learn more.