Under federal law, sexual exploitation of children is a separate crime that also covers the production of child pornography.
In basic terms, any person who attempts to induce, entice, or persuade a minor to engage in a sexual act for the purposes of making a video, picture or other images is guilty of sexual exploitation.
This federal law is covered under 18 U.S.C. § 2251. Under federal child pornography laws, a minor is anyone under the age of 18.
It's important to note that you can be prosecuted for sexual exploitation of children even when the conduct occurred outside of the United States.
However, in order to prosecute anyone who has been accused production of child pornography in a foreign country, the government prosecutor has to be able to prove you intended to send, or make available, the child pornography material to people in the United States.
Under federal law, the legal penalties for sexual exploitation under federal law are severe. If you are convicted, the mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years and the maximum sentence is 30 years.
Typically, legal penalties for a child pornography or sexual exploitation conviction depend on a variety of different factors and the calculation of the federal sentencing guidelines.
In federal sexual exploitation cases, the sentence will normally depend on how many images or videos you possessed or distributed, the exact age of the minors, and the specific type of sexual conduct shown in the images.
Additionally, there are also sentence enhancements if you have engaged in a pattern of similar conduct, even if you were never previously charged or convicted of a sexual related crime.
If you are facing allegations of this federal crime of violating sexual exploitation of children laws, you need to consult with a Los Angeles federal criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP immediately.
Do not make any statements to federal agents. Let's examine the legal definitions below.
18 U.S.C. 2251 - Sexual Exploitation of Children
Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 2251 criminalizes the sexual exploitation of children.
Section 2251 defines several categories of behavior which constitute child sexual exploitation, and specifies extremely severe punishments for said behavior.
To better understand the applicability of this federal criminal statute, we will define the conduct which the statute prohibits, provide realistic examples, and discuss the applicable punishments for each category.
Subdivision (a) of Section 2251 punishes:
- “any person who employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in, or who has a minor assist any other person to engage in, or who transports any minor in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, with the intent that such minor engage in, any sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct or for the purpose of transmitting a live visual depiction of such conduct…”
The thrust of this subsection is to prohibit the production of child pornography. Because Section 2251 codifies a federal crime, as opposed to a State crime, there is an element of interstate activity required.
This can be as simple as the use of the internet or the mail service. However, activity that occurs entirely within one of the 50 States would arguably not be covered by Section 2251.
An example of a violation of Section 2251, subdivision (a), would be an individual transporting a minor across state lines in a vehicle for the purpose of filming child pornography.
Subsection (e) specifies that such a person be punished with anywhere from 15 years to life in prison, depending on their prior record, and other aggravating factors outside the scope of this article.
Subdivision (b) of Section 2251 punishes substantially the same conduct as subdivision (a), but is especially targeted at the parents or legal guardians of an exploited minor.
It specifically criminalizes:
- “any parent, legal guardian, or person having custody or control of a minor who knowingly permits such minor to engage in, or to assist any other person to engage in, sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct or for the purpose of transmitting a live visual depiction of such conduct.”
Section 2251, subdivision (b) would be violated by, for example, a parent who allows their underage child to be filmed for the purpose of child pornography, even if the parent does not participate in the filming themselves.
Violations of this subdivision are punished in the same manner as subdivision (a), which is to say they potentially carry a life sentence in federal prison depending on the perpetrator's prior criminal history.
Section 2251, subdivision (c) punishes:
- “any person who … employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in, or who has a minor assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct outside of the United States, its territories or possessions, for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct.”
The key distinction in this subdivision is the requirement that the conduct occur outside the United States or its territories knowing, or reasonably knowing, that the produced child pornography will be distributed within the United States or its territories.
A violation of this subsection might take the form of a foreign national producing child pornography, and then distributing it via the internet to persons living in the United States. These violations, again, carry potential life sentences.
Subdivision (d) of Section 2251 is addressed specifically to the printing or publishing of advertising either seeking or offering child pornography, or children to be exploited in the production of the same. Once again, these violations carry a potential life sentence.
As you can see, Section 2251 of Title 18 of the United States Code provides a comprehensive statutory scheme for dealing with the production, distribution, and advertisement of child pornography, as well as the exploiting of minors who are victimized by child pornography, whether by strangers or their own parents, inside or outside of the United States.
See related information: Federal Child Pornography.
Legal Defenses - Sexual Exploitation of Children
In most cases, defending anyone who has been charged with a federal child pornography or sexual exploitation crime is complicated.
However, our Los Angeles federal criminal defense law firm has a track record of success challenging the federal prosecutor's evidence on some critical elements of the crime.
For example, our lawyers may be able to successfully argue that the person depicted in the film or images are not a minor. In many cases, it's not always clear and we can consult with medical experts to review images to show the person being depicted might be at least 18 years old.
Our attorneys will also closely review the evidence in order to determine if the images prove “sexually explicit conduct,” defined under federal law. In many cases, the prosecutor has nude images as evidence, but they don't always show the type of sexual activity that is prohibited under federal law.
See related: Selling or Buying of Children.
Another effective legal defense strategy includes obtaining assistance from experts in computer forensics. They are able to help us determine if the government investigators properly conducted a search of your computer or other electronic devices to locate the evidence.
In some cases, the experts can prove the images or videos you had on your computer may not have been knowingly possessed and were actually inadvertently obtained, or quickly deleted.
Our criminal lawyers have seen case where child pornography images were mistakenly downloaded.
Our computer forensic experts might be able to focus on specific internet search terms to prove you were not intentionally searching for child pornography images.
Call a Los Angeles Federal Criminal Defense Lawyer
The crimes described above are very serious violations of federal law. If you or a family member has been accused of federal sexual exploitation of children, you should contact our experienced federal criminal defense attorneys immediately to protect your rights.
We offer a free immediate response. Call our office at 877-781-1570.