As technology continues to evolve, criminal activities have become common vices on the internet. Through the internet and social media platforms, individuals can easily arrange meetings with other people for sex or exchange sexual materials. Making arrangements to have sex with an underage person or distributing nude images of children on the internet could result in an arrest and conviction for computer sex crimes. You could face an arrest even in situations where a minor poses as an adult or undercover agents pose as minors.
The consequences of a computer sex crime charge are severe, especially when the victim is a minor. You serve time in jail, and your relationships are destroyed due to stigma from society. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we can offer you competent legal guidance and representation if charged with a computer sex crime. If you or your loved one faces criminal charges for an internet sex crime in Fairfax, VA, or Northern Virginia, contact us.
Overview of Computer Sex Crimes in Virginia
In this digital age, law enforcement is faced with the challenge of tracking, arresting, and punishing individuals who use internet platforms to commit crimes. Although internet crimes may vary, the most focus is on internet sex crimes, especially those involving minors. Internet sex crimes can be prosecuted by state or federal laws depending on their scope.
Internet sex crimes refer to acts of individual communication to minors on the internet with the intention of sexual gratification. How you interact with the child may encourage them to engage in virtual sex to invite them to meet with you. According to the United States Department of website justice, production, possession, and receiving of child pornography is a federal crime.
For most internet sex crimes, the law considers a minor as an individual below eighteen years. Internet sex crimes are often very serious, and a conviction could result in severe legal consequences. Also, an arrest for such crimes could significantly ruin your reputation and relationships in society. Therefore, if you or your loved one faces criminal charges for an internet sex crime in Virginia, it is crucial to contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Some of the most common computer sex crimes prosecuted under Virginia law include:
In Virginia, it is illegal to possess, produce or distribute pornographic materials that involve minors. For this law, a minor is considered any individual below eighteen years. Crimes against children are often committed by people mandated to protect them. Since children are particularly vulnerable, Virginia has set strict laws to punish crimes against juveniles. Child pornography laws are some of the most stringent laws in Virginia. Although the statues are made to protect children, you could be falsely accused and convicted for this crime.
Legally, child pornography involves any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving photos, videos, or film. Whether the images were taken directly or electronically produced, you can be arrested and charged with child pornography. Mostly, child pornography is made for distribution on social networks, making it a sex crime.
Penal Code 18.2-374.1:1 of Virginia states that:
- An individual who knowingly possesses child porn will face a class 6 felony charge.
- Any offender who commits a second offense of child pornography possession violates a class 5 felony.
- If you convince or coerce another person into sending you pornographic material involving minors, you will face charges for child pornography.
- An individual who uses the internet intending to seek child pornographic content will face a class four felony conviction.
In Virginia, prosecution and conviction of offenders involved in child pornography occur within the jurisdiction where the offense happened and where the material was discovered, produced, or sold. The law on computer sex crimes specifies body parts and sexual acts that qualify for this type of sex crime.
For you to be convicted for child pornography, the prosecution must prove that you possessed or sent clear images, messages, or videos of explicit content that involves minors. The creation of pornographic materials involving children is a serious felony punishable by:
- A prison sentence not exceeding twenty years if the alleged victim is above fifteen years.
- Up to thirty years in prison if you are older by seven years than the minor.
- A prison sentence of up to forty years if the victim is below fifteen years and you are seven years their senior.
Some of the acts that could result in prosecution for creating child porn in Virginia include:
- Enticing a minor to take part in pornography. If you produce pornographic material, you will face criminal charges.
- Knowingly taking part in creating online content depicting child pornography. Also, encouraging a friend to download or modify pornographic pictures of minors is a crime in Virginia.
- You can be charged with creating child pornography if you attempt to produce or create the content. An act like taking a naked photo of a minor could land you in legal trouble.
- Financing child pornography. You can face charges and be convicted for child pornography if you finance these activities. There are several ways in which you can commit a crime of financing child pornography, including loaning money, a phone, or a camera to a friend for the production of child pornography.
Possession of Child Pornography in Virginia
There are many forms of child pornography. Possession of explicit content involving minors could attract these charges even when you were not involved in creating the content. It is crucial to note that minor sexting is illegal in Virginia, and it attracts charges as severe as other forms of child pornography. Sexting can attract charges for both possession and distribution of child pornography. Possession of child porn takes two main forms:
- Possession without specific or relevant intentions.
- Possession where you can recover the images through other means.
Like possession of drugs and firearms, possession of child porn can result in a conviction even when you did not intend to use them. When it comes to minors, Virginia law is strict. Therefore, pedophiles who do not download child porn but watch it online could be arrested. Investigators use computer experts to recreate the content from temporary files and use it as evidence in the case. A conviction for child pornography possession attracts a five-year prison sentence for a first offense and up to ten years for repeat offenders.
Distribution of Child Pornography
The crime of distributing child pornography is serious but straightforward. You could be charged for violating Virginia penal Code by giving away, electronically transmitted, or reproducing pornographic materials involving a minor. A conviction for distributing child porn is punishable by a five to a twenty-year prison sentence. Each count of creation, possession, and distribution of child pornography is treated and punished individualy. Therefore, legal guidance is crucial if you or your loved one faces these charges.
Images that apply as child pornography under Statute 18.2-374.1:1 do not include:
- Images stored for scientific or medical purposes.
- Images kept a judge by the judge officiating a court case.
- Images maintained by law enforcement, psychologists, or lawyers.
Virginia Federal Child Pornography Charges
Child pornography charges would fall under federal jurisdiction if the material were distributed or produced across state lines. The federal law imposes more severe sentenced for individuals convicted for child pornography. The main charges addressed by the federal law include:
Production of Child Pornography
Under 18 U.S.CODE 2251, several actions could lead to prosecution for the production of child porn. If you are in control of a minor and use them to create pornographic content, you can be charged with the production of child pornography in Virginia. However, if the content you produce is intended for interstate distribution, you can be charged in federal court. Federal penalties for the production of child pornography include:
- Fifteen to thirty years in prison for a first offense.
- Twenty-five to fifty years for a second offense.
- Thirty-five years to life for a third or subsequent offense.
- Fines not exceeding $175,000.
Distribution and Receipt of Child Pornography
You could be charged with distribution or receipt of child pornography under federal law if you knowingly mail, ship, or transport the offensive materials across state lines. Also, possession of child pornography with an intent to view will attract these penalties:
- A ten years sentence for a first offense
- Up to twenty years for a second offense
If the minor involved is below twelve years, you could face a prison sentence of up to forty years.
Defenses against Child Pornography Charges
As a result of the serious consequences you could face after a conviction for this type of computer sex crime, it is crucial to seek legal guidance. Your attorney can help you build a strong defense to fight the charges. Common defenses to child pornography charges include:
You Did not Know that the Alleged Victim was a Minor
Before you face a conviction for child porn in Virginia, the prosecution must prove that you knew that the material was of an individual below eighteen years. Sometimes, you could be mistaken about another person’s age, especially when such inappropriate content appears on the internet. If you can present reasonable evidence that you did not know that the alleged victim was a minor, the prosecutor may not have a reason to convict you.
You did not Know of the Content’s Obscene Nature
Another element that needs to be clear in a child pornography case is that you knew that the material you possessed or distributed was obscene. You may not be found guilty of this crime if you can prove that you did not know of their offensive nature.
You Had a Legitimate Purpose
The law does not apply to individuals whose possession of indecent images of children is justifiable. If the material is to be used for medical, scientific, or judicial purposes, you cannot face a conviction for the offense.
Internet Solicitation of a Child
You commit a crime of online solicitation of a minor if you engage in online communication with a child where you lure them into meeting you to engage in a sexual act. It can be very frustrating to face charges for online solicitation since it does not involve actual sexual contact. A simple act of making sexual communication with a minor will result in serious criminal charges. Most online sex crimes can be charged under Virginia or Federal laws depending on where the crime occurs.
Online solicitation is a broad statute covering a wide range of activities that involve the use of electronic devices to commit sexual crimes against minors. Electronic communication may include social media platforms and apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, signal, and Facebook. The solicitation that is punished as a sex crime may violate sex laws against minors. You can be arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor for the following activities:
- Suggesting that you expose your genitals to a minor to whom you are not legally married
- Proposing that a child fondle their genitals for you to watch
- Propose that a minor engage in sexual intercourse, oral sexual contact, or other prohibited sexual acts
- Allure or entice a minor to enter a confined area to perform prohibited sexual acts
Since production, distribution, or possession of child porn is a crime, solicitation of a minor to take part in child porn could result in charges for both crimes. The prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction for online solicitation of a minor in Virginia:
- You used a computer network or other forms of communication.
- You used the computer to solicit a child to engage in prohibited sexual activities.
- The defendant was a minor. It must be clear that the alleged victim was below eighteen years before you face a conviction for solicitation.
- You knew or had reason to believe that the child was below fifteen years.
If you face a conviction for computer solicitation of a minor, the penalties you face will depend on several factors, including:
- The child’s age. Online sex crimes committed against children under fifteen years are severely punished. Using a computer to convince a child below fifteen years is a class 5 felony.
- The sex crime you intend to commit. Solicitation of minors often occurs when you try to lure a minor into engaging in sexual intercourse, expose their genitals or even engage in child pornography. Therefore, the intent of your actions may be significant during sentencing for the salutation of a minor in Virginia.
- Your criminal history. Virginia law is often strict on repeat offenders. Therefore, if you have prior convictions for minor solicitation or other internet sex crimes, you risk facing an enhanced sentence.
As a class six felony, online solicitation of a child attracts the following penalties:
- A prison sentence of one to five years.
- Jail confinement of up to one year.
- Fines not exceeding $2500.
On the other hand, a class five felony conviction for violating Virginia Code 18.2-374.3 is punishable by a prison sentence of up to ten years and $2500 in fines.
Defenses to Online Solicitation of a Child Charges in Virginia
Since actual contact with a juvenile is not required to make a conviction for solicitation, phone call recordings or text messages could cause you to be arrested and convicted for this crime. Sometimes, an innocent fantasy with an adult using language meant for minors could result in a false conviction for online solicitation. Fortunately, all arrests for this crime do not result in a conviction.
With guidance from your criminal lawyer, you can tactfully challenge the case by finding fault and creating doubt in the prosecutor’s evidence against you. Sine, a prosecutor must establish all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Creating enough doubt on one or more elements could weaken the case and help you avoid the harsh penalties that accompany a conviction.
Sextortion/ Sexual Exploitation
Sextortion is the use of sexual exploitation to force someone else to do something for you. Most Sextortion crimes occur through the internet. Extortion is a non-physical force to compel another party to do something that they do not want. With the fast-growing internet and social media, crime has taken a new form. You commit the crime of Sextortion when you use damaging information about another person to do something against their will.
Even though there is no specific statute that addresses Sextortion, the crime could be charged alongside other crimes such as:
- Child pornography
Since Sextortion may involve crimes occurring over the World Wide Web, you could face federal charges. If you are arrested for committing Sextortion against a minor, you could face charges for sexual exploitation, which results in a thirty years prison sentence after a conviction.
Plea Bargaining Negotiations for Computer Sex Crimes
In Virginia, the police invest plenty of resources in investigating and prosecuting internet sex crimes. Internet sex crimes are often based on strong defense since your communications could be tracked. Therefore, if you are arrested, avoid speaking to the police without the presence of your criminal defense attorney. This is because you can easily give away all of the evidence required to convict you of the alleged crime.
Most internet sex crimes attract a lengthy prison sentence after a conviction which you want to avoid at all costs. Therefore, with strong legal defense, you can file pretrial motions to suppress some of the evidence presented against you. Some of the evidence in internet sex crimes may be obtained from the illegal search and seizure of your electronic devices. Therefore, you can work to obtain a plea bargain for a lesser charge.
If you are at least seven years older than the alleged victim, you will face a mandatory prison sentence of five years or more, depending on the nature of the sex crime you committed. Your only hope in avoiding the serious penalties that accompany a conviction is the ability of your attorney to negotiate favorable plea deals.
Sex Offender Registration after a Conviction for Internet Sex Crimes
Most Internet sex crimes are committed against children who may not be fully aware of the consequences of their actions. Virginia laws are stringent on individuals who commit sex crimes against children. The Sex Offender and Crimes often govern sex offender registration laws in Virginia against Minors Registry Act.
If you face a conviction for computer sex crimes such as online solicitation of a minor or child pornography possession and distribution. In that case, you will be required to register as a sex offender. Within three days of release from jail, you should register per the requirement, including:
- Have your photograph taken.
- Submit your palm and fingerprints.
- Provide a DNA sample.
- Submit contacts, addresses, and vehicle registrations.
- Provide information on your employment and place of residence.
Since your name could remain in the offender registry for up to fifteen years, this status could significantly impact your life. Securing a decent job can be difficult for sex offenders. This is because potential employers can search the registry. If you face charges for an online sex offense, it is crucial to proceed with expert legal guidance to help avoid a conviction and sex offender registration.
Find a Virginia Criminal Attorney Specializing in Computer Sex Crimes Near Me
Internet sex crimes such as solicitation and possession of child pornography are serious crimes in Virginia. A mere accusation for one of these crimes can result in lifelong consequences. In addition to the severe legal penalties resulting from a computer sex crime conviction, you can face stigma from your community if the story receives media attention. Also, you may be required to register as a sex offender, which may have detrimental effects on your career and social life.
The laws relating to using the internet to commit illegal sex offenses are constantly changing, allowing for elevated sentences. Therefore, if you face criminal charges for a computer sex crime, it would be wise to seek legal guidance from a competent criminal attorney. At Virginia Criminal Attorney, we will help you build a strong defense and guide you through your case. If you face charges in Fairfax, VA, or Northern Virginia, call us at 703-718-5533 to discuss the details of your case.