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Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in Maryland Federal Child Pornography Sentencing

The key to child pornography charges, as a Maryland federal child pornography lawyer can explain, is that there is a 5-year mandatory minimum for receipt of child pornography for a first offense and a fifteen year mandatory minimum sentence for a second offense. The long term consequences are that you’re going to have to register as a sex offender, sometimes for the rest of your life. There are huge implications related to that registration process. Also, there is a huge stigma in being convicted of a child pornography charge. For this reason, the sentencing process is a very important part of the case.

In federal court, if you are sentenced to a jail term, even if it’s a short jail term, when you’re released, you’ll be on what’s called supervised release, which is an intensive period of supervision by a federal community supervision officer. If there are violations of the terms of supervised release, that can lead to more jail time potentially and the conditions of supervised release can be really onerous.  There are monitoring requirements on a computer.  There are forcible disclosures potentially to employers about your conviction.  There is sometimes sex offender counseling that can be difficult. The potential for accruing a technical violation of the condition to supervised release is very high.  It’s very difficult to make it through supervised release. I can’t tell you the number of hearings before federal judges I’ve done on violations of conditions of release in these types of cases.  So it’s a very tough process to make it through.

Aggravating Factors

The big ones are the nature of the images and the age of the children in the pictures. If they are under 12, that’s a huge aggravating factor.  The number of images is important and there is a potential enhancement in sentencing guideline ranges regarding to the number of images involved.  If there are videos involved, each video counts as 75 images. Also, if there are sadomasochistic or images of violence involved, there can be an enhancement or an aggravating factor.

Mitigating Factors

Many mitigating factors have to do with the circumstances surrounding your client. Does he or she suffer from mental illness?  Did the client suffer abuse of some sort?  Was there is a history of drug abuse?  Also, the nature and circumstances of the offense can be important. If there are very few images involved that can also be a mitigating factor. There are some cases where it was clear that the client was drawn into committing an offense, and that they were very hesitant about actually engaging in any sort of criminal conduct. That has been a mitigating factor as well.

How Much Discretion Do Judges Have?

If judges are not dealing with a mandatory minimum sentence, they have a wide range of discretion in these cases. In certain jurisdictions, the sentences have actually been coming down a lot because the judges are realizing that possession and receipt of child pornography does not automatically mean that a person who was charged was physically touching a child.  It does not lessen the severity of the offense conduct, but it does give judges comfort that locking the person of many years is not necessarily the solution or the resolution that is going to have the most societal benefit. Judges are recognizing that treatment and shorter jail time is a more productive route.

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