Investigating child pornography charges is a long, patient process where investigators sometimes track users for months on end.
Investigations are also an immersive process, where detectives use computer professionals and IP address tracking that uses data technology and also relies on information from private companies like home addresses and personal information to track down potential perpetrators.
While all this technology is being used, there is also a lot of room for mistakes to be made in the investigation process.
Therefore, many child pornography charges come from the federal level and fall under federal guidelines. For example, possession of child pornography is defined as someone knowingly owning or controlling an image or files containing child pornography. This explanation may differ from the definitions in Maryland and other states for more local-level charges.
Of course, federal investigators may partner with their state or county-level counterparts in an effort to facilitate the overall investigation. Once the investigation has gone far enough, then both federal and state-level prosecutors may file criminal charges against the individual, potentially doubling their sentences.
Once someone has purposefully downloaded or uploaded an identified piece of child pornography, the agents will then attempt to trace the activity to a specific device or computer – and then to a single individual or group.
A single instance of child pornography acquisition or upload on a monitored site might attract an investigator's attention, but they may not move right away. Instead, they may watch for weeks or months until they feel their case is (supposedly) airtight against the individual in question.
What Child Pornography Investigators Try to "Prove" Through Evidence Collection
During child pornography operations, federal agents' goals are to build up as solid a case as possible against suspected criminals. That way, their prosecutor partners can have the easiest time convincing a judge and jury that the defendant is guilty, and so protect innocent minors from exploitation.
The specific format of the child pornography in question, and that the depicted individuals are underage minors; and
The child pornography media were obtained across state lines in some way, to justify federal-level charges.
The evidence collection may include:
The child pornography itself;
Forensic software reports of IP addresses, upload and download times, and other important tracking information;
Physical USB memory sticks, photographs, and other hard evidence collected with a valid search warrant;
Testimony from witnesses and collaborators;
Schedules, videos, and photographs demonstrating the suspect had the opportunity and actual control of the device in question at the time of the pornography creation, distribution, or possession; and
Polygraph exams and other interrogations of the suspects involved.
There's a mountain of possible evidence that child porn investigators can bring to bear against an unsuspecting suspect, and it may feel insurmountable when first confronted with an FBI agent on your front stoop, asking for your phone.
You don't have to face a child pornography investigation or charge by yourself, though. If you find yourself staring down the barrel of a possible sex offender trial, then you should reach out to an experienced law firm as soon as possible to evaluate your options and possible defenses. The sooner in an investigation you get help, the sooner you can start to sleep at night.