Have you gotten a knock on your door at the crack of dawn? It’s rarely a good thing. It’s even worse if – as soon as you open the door – the police shove a warrant into your face with…wait, are those child pornography charges?
Are you or a loved one suddenly staring down the barrel of a child pornography accusation? Then you should definitely read this article to learn:
- What happened before law enforcement served the warrant and informed you of the child pornography investigation;
- The very first thing you should do if ever accused of child pornography-related charges (Spoiler: it involves the Fifth Amendment); and
- How you can win the rigged “game” and keep your life as you know it.
How Do False Allegations of Child Pornography Occur?
Look, mistakes happen. People take risks online that they shouldn’t, visiting shady websites, and maybe even downloading the latest season of “The Great British Baking Show” without – gasp! – paying for their buddy’s Netflix subscription.
Does an honest mistake mean that someone should be accused (or even worse, convicted) of child pornography charges? Absolutely not, but those accusations can be made far too quickly for anyone’s comfort.
See, the police are not allowed to search someone’s property unless they’re given explicit permission to do so by a judge via a search warrant.
If they came knocking on your door waving an official warrant, that means that the prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement must have shown enough “evidence” to a Maryland judge to give them reasonable belief something illegal was going on.
So, where did they get that evidence? This question can be especially troubling if you know you did nothing wrong – or at least not “that” wrong.
As it turns out, law enforcement agencies have entire teams and software programs dedicated to scanning the internet for possible child porn distribution networks.
One false click on your part, and your IP address (the unique label that identifies your device on an online network) may make you the latest suspect caught in their electronic drag net.
A Note on Statute of Limitations for Child Pornography-Related Charges
Even if the incident or activity that triggered a child pornography investigation occurred months ago, law enforcement can wait to inform you of the allegations until their “case” against you is strong enough to obtain a search warrant and/or formally charge you, attributing other (possibly unrelated) activity with the original.
This fact is especially true for Marylanders, since our state has no general “statute of limitations” for felony-level crimes. In basic terms, a statute of limitations is the time limit for a party (whether it’s an individual or a law enforcement agency) to pursue legal action after an alleged activity took place. Without a statute of limitations, this means that law enforcement agencies in Maryland can pursue a case for a felony charge indefinitely, no matter how long ago the alleged crime took place.
As for possible federal charges, which can be levied if the alleged material crossed state lines (e.g.: over the internet), federal statutes generally offer five years in which charges can be filed for felony-level crimes.
However, if prosecutors file their charges as specifically offenses against children – literally any charges “involving the sexual or physical abuse, or kidnapping, or a child under the age of 18 years” – then they can file charges against you at any time for the life of the child or ten years from the alleged crime, whichever is longer.
What Should You Do If Facing Accusations Related to Child Pornography?
Play the Game.
When handling a child pornography case, one of the very first things that our criminal defense attorneys want our clients to realize is that this whole situation is a “game,” and the other side has already begun to play it.
By the time you’ve been “dealt in” and notified of the charges or allegations, prosecutors have already stacked the deck and know which cards are where.
The outcome of this game will take months – years, even – and will influence the rest of your life.
Therefore, the first thing you need to do is to start playing their legal game as soon as they invite themselves into your home with a warrant.
Fifth Amendment and Child Pornography Cases
For example, remember that, before you enter any courtroom, you still have the right to remain silent, even when being served with a warrant or placed under arrest.
That right is enshrined in the Fifth Amendment, whether you were read your Miranda rights or not.
[No person] shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…
In the interest of the topic at hand, this part of the Fifth Amendment states that people can’t be forced to testify or voluntarily offer evidence – “be a witness” – when it’s against their best interests. This “witnessing” can be verbal, written, or via any other form of communication regarding the possible charges.
Now, th=is “witnessing” can happen as early as the initial interaction or (lawful) search by the police. They may start by asking casual questions, like if a laptop on the property being searched belongs to you, or if you’ve ever downloaded files onto a personal device.
Don’t fall for it. They’re prodding for evidence, looking for ways to build their already growing case against you.
Remember: No amount of polite questioning, official interrogations, requests for “statements,” warnings that “cooperation is in your best interest” – nothing can legally require a suspect to communicate anything that could possibly be evidence later.
Be polite, but don’t talk to them. Don’t answer any questions, and don’t try to offer any “justifications” for whatever they may find. Everything you say now can and will be used against you in a court of law.
How to Respond to a Child Pornography Allegation
The legal game was rigged before law enforcement ever knocked on your door.
That’s especially true when it comes to child pornography charges, even if you know you’re not guilty. Or, at the very least, not guilty of the charges they’re trying to shove down your throat.
When you know the deck is stacked against you, you need to be ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the outcome is fair and honest, because in this game, losing in court means losing relationships and reputations.
It means losing thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines.
It means losing any hope you had of pursuing your career – no matter the industry or how long you worked for it.
It means losing years of your life behind bars.
Child pornography charges happen when law enforcement is ready to strip off their gloves and go to the mat to convict you – and you need to be ready and prepared for that.
But really, who’s actually prepared for something like this to happen? Especially when you know you haven’t done what you’re being accused of or charged with.
Those accused of child pornography possession, distribution, or possession are woefully unprepared to fight as hard as they need to win the case, while the prosecution knows all the details and loopholes of the legal system.
That’s when you tag in the reinforcements, in the form of an experienced defense lawyer you trust. That lawyer is already prepared for this sort of attack, and will know exactly how you can punch above your weight to win the round – and the fight.
So, don’t panic at that knock. Stay silent, smile, and ask for your lawyer.
Your lawyer will be glad you did. So will you.