Maryland Man Faces Life Imprisonment for Child Pornography Charge

Authorities Break Up Maryland Child Pornography Ring

In June, a Maryland man pled guilty to one count of interstate advertisement of child pornography. The man used a friend-sharing program to establish a child pornography network that shared over 10,000 images and photos of young boys with over 70 "buddies."

Everyone in the network was encouraged to manufacture "fresh" material for the group. Those who did not were threatened with being kicked out. According to statements made by the man, he spent several hours a day making new videos for the network.

Because of two prior convictions for the sexual exploitation of children, the man must serve at least 35 years in prison, but could receive a sentence of life imprisonment. The man's sentence will ultimately be determined by a judge using federal sentencing guidelines as a starting point for evaluating the appropriate disposition for the crime.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The punishments for individuals convicted of internet child pornography offenses are generally based on the federal sentencing guidelines. The federal sentencing guidelines are formulated by the United States Sentencing Commission, which was created in 1984 in response to rising crime throughout the country and high recidivism rates among criminals who were released.

The guidelines were mandatory until two United States Supreme Court decisions determined that the mandatory requirement violated a defendant's 6 th Amendment rights. After that, the federal sentencing guidelines became simply advisory.

Factors That Affect Sentence Terms

The federal sentencing guidelines for a particular crime are determined by considering the seriousness of the offense and the defendant's criminal history score, which is based on the defendant's prior convictions, if any. Although federal internet child pornography crimes fall within the most serious offenses category, the sentence term is also determined by the seriousness of the offense within that category. Sentencing for various child pornography offenses will vary depending on several factors, such as:

  • Was the child in question under the age of 12?
  • Was the pornographic material distributed?
  • Was it distributed to a minor?
  • Was the offense limited to the receipt or solicitation of pornographic material?
  • Was the offense committed with the intent of making money?
  • Was a computer used to send, disseminate or receive the material?
  • Did the material contain any sadistic or masochistic content?
  • Was the offense committed in exchange for something other than money?
  • Was material given to a minor to encourage, persuade, coerce, or assist the minor in traveling so the minor could engage in prohibited sexual conduct?
  • Did the defendant engage in a recurring pattern that involved sexually abusing or exploiting a minor?
  • Was material given to a minor to encourage, persuade, coerce or tempt the minor into participating in an illegal activity?
  • Was the defendant related to or guardian of the minor?
  • Did the defendant take steps to conceal his/her identity in order to travel with the minor to engage in prohibited sexual conduct?
  • How many images were distributed?

The number of images can have a significant impact on the severity of the offense within the guidelines. Defendants convicted of transmitting between 10-149 images can expect an offense level increase of two. An additional offense level is reached for each bracket of 150 to 299 images and 300 to 599 images.

As soon as the number of images transmitted hits 600, the increase in offense level flatlines. A five level increase may not sound like a lot, but the heightened offense level could result in anywhere from an additional 8 years to life imprisonment, depending on the accompanying criminal history score.

Judges May Deviate From the Guidelines

It is important to recognize that the guidelines are suggestions only and do not guarantee a sentence term. In fact, judges in recent years have been deviating from the guidelines, giving convicted offenders softer sentences than what the guidelines recommend.

Courts draw a wide distinction between viewers of child pornography and child molesters. Defendants who have been convicted of viewing pictures of minors are typically serving 5 to 10 years rather than the 15 to 20 years requested by prosecutors. In some cases convicted offenders have just been put on probation. By the end of September 2009, the sentences prescribed were typically 44% below the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

The reason for the change has a great deal to do with judges listening to psychologists who say there is nothing to indicate that people who view child pornography are also child molesters or likely to become child molesters.

The individual case itself is another factor. Judges generally look at the unique details of the offense in question and any aggravating factors surrounding it.

This is not to say that all judges are deviating from the federal sentencing guidelines. In some cases, the sentences ordered by federal judges do follow the guidelines. Reasonable minds differ; the prison term a defendant may be required to serve varies a great deal depending on the judge.

The Experience of a Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney is Critical to Understanding the Charges and Their Consequences

The heavy penalties associated with the possession and/or distribution of child pornography coupled with widely deviating judicial sentencing practices make it essential for any individual facing these charges to stage a strong defense.

An experienced child pornography attorney who specializes in both federal and state internet child pornography cases can explain the repercussions of the charges and devise a strategy for building a defense against them.