Who Investigates Child Pornography? – A Criminal Lawyer's Experience

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.

If you've recently discovered that you're the target of a child pornography investigation by Maryland or federal law enforcement, then you should have a thorough understanding of exactly how the investigation happened and where it can go from here, including:

  • Which law enforcement agencies typically investigate child pornography;
  • How a child pornography investigation proceeds; and
  • What sort of “evidence” a child porn investigator looks for.

Who Investigates a Child Pornography Accusation?

Child porn investigators are often employed by the federal government, as its creation and distribution often cross state lines. These investigators can come from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcements, or the Department of Homeland Security, depending on the situation.

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.

How a Child Pornography Investigation Proceeds

Child porn investigators often lay low at first. They manually and digitally track downloads and traffic on known child pornography distribution websites or on the "dark web."

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.

Therefore, child pornography investigators collect evidence to prove:

  • A suspect knowingly received or distributed pornographic images of children;
  • 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.

And, JC Law's criminal defense attorneys have decades of experiencing defending individuals trapped in child pornography investigations and fighting for our clients' rights in front of court and country. If you'd like to see how we'd treat your child pornography investigation, then schedule your free first consultation with one of our criminal attorneys now.

We'll get you through it.

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