During this past fiscal year, federal prosecutors brought a record number of child exploitation charges against defendants in the Middle District of Florida, which includes Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Ocala, and Fort Myers. Most of these cases did not involve allegations of direct sexual contact with a minor; rather, most cases involved charges of possessing, receiving or distributing child pornography by use of a computer.
Through an ongoing Justice Department initiative, federal prosecutors brought 127 child exploitation cases in the Middle District last year. The year before that, 104 cases were prosecuted. The year before that, there were 82 federal child exploitation cases. The numbers suggest a trend: federal and local authorities plan to continue their crackdown on child pornography in Florida. The crackdown appears to be targeting those who view child pornography and less effort is being put on finding those who sexually abuse children and make the child pornography.
Still, Congress has categorized child pornography offenses as violent crimes, and sentencing for a child pornography conviction can be harsh. Receipt of child pornography is punishable by a minimum of 5 years in prison and up to 20 years. The U.S. Attorney in the Middle District routinely charges receipt of child pornography even for those who never abused a child, never paid for the child pornography, and have no prior criminal record. Most child pornography cases involve sharing of images obtained through a peer-to-peer network, rather than paying for child pornography.
A conviction for possession, receipt or distribution of child pornography which occurs on a person's computer in the privacy of their own home also brands the person as a sex offender, even though no improper contact with a child ever occurred.
A recent report in The Tampa Tribune has more on the federal crackdown on child pornography in the Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville areas.
If you would like to learn more about protecting defendants' rights, then our Internet Sex Crimes overview is a good place to start.