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Federal Child Pornography Laws – 18 U.S.C. § 2252

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 15, 2019 | 0 Comments

The laws against child pornography are some of the strictest in the federal court system. Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 2252 makes it a federal offense to possess, distribute, or transport child pornography – which is defined any visual imagery that depicts children under 18 years old in sexual situations for the purpose of sexual stimulation.

This federal code section also provides for severe criminal penalties, which will be reviewed below.  If you or a family member has been indicted in a federal criminal court for violating of 18 U.S.C. § 2252, intervention into your case by an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is crucial.

At Eisner Gorin LLP, our attorneys are well-versed in federal child pornography laws and make sure your legal rights are protected throughout the entire legal process.

In order to understand this code section, and its application, it's helpful to start with the language in the statute itself.  Our child pornography defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Subsection (a) of Section 2252 describes categories of people and conduct which are covered by the law. The first category is any person who does the following acts:

Transports Child Pornography

18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(1) describes the federal crime to knowingly transport or ship child pornography using any means of interstate or foreign commerce, or in affecting commerce by any means, which includes a computer or mail, any visual depiction, if:

  • (A) The producing of visual depictions involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and
  • (B) The visual depiction is of such conduct

This first category of conduct addresses the transportation of child pornography across State lines, or internationally.

As with many federal crimes, this jurisdictional element is crucial to understand. For example, just intrastate conduct won't always trigger the federal government's law enforcement powers. In many cases, it would be investigated and prosecuted by a State government agency.

It should be noted the requirement in subsection (a)(1)(B) that the conduct which appears to be depicted in the visual image actually involves a minor. This statutory language means that cartoons or drawings, for example, that depict child pornography are most likely not covered by under this law because they don't actually depict minors engaged in sexual contact.

Receives or Distributes Child Pornography

18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(2) describes anyone who knowingly receives or distributes any visual depiction of minors, using interstate or foreign commerce, or that was mailed, shipped, or transported, or that contains material by any means including by computer, that knowingly reproduces any visual depictions of minors for distribution affecting interstate commerce if:

  • (A) The producing of visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and
  • (B) The visual depiction is of such conduct

The previous subsection above covered transportation of contraband images. This subsection addresses both the receipt and distribution of child pornography images.

This includes simple downloading of child pornography images from a website, or even in situations of sharing child pornography images with other internet users through a file sharing service.

Selling Child Pornography Images

18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(3) describes the sale, or possession with intent to sell, of child pornography images.

Subsection (a)(4) makes it a federal crime for the mere possession of child pornography.  Again, in both of these subsections, jurisdictional requirements are listed to make sure it's a federal offense, and not a case that would be prosecuted by a state court.

Therefore, Subsection (a)(3) offenses have to either occur in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or land or buildings that are owned, leased, or under the control of the United States Government, including Indian country.

Again, it's a federal offense to knowingly sell or possesses with intent to sell any visual depiction of minors that have been mailed, shipped, or transported using interstate or foreign commerce, or shipped or transported using materials which have been mailed, including by computer.

Penalties for Federal Child Pornography

Subsection (b) of Section 2252 describes the legal penalties as whoever violates, or attempts or conspires to violate these subsections, will be fined and sentenced to prison for not less than 5 years, or more than 20 years in federal prison.

However, a second or subsequent violation can result in up to 40 years in federal prison.  The mere possession of child pornography is punishable by a maximum of 10 years.

If any of the contraband images portray children under the age of 12-year-old, the sentence can be increased to 20 years' imprisonment. Any convictions for second of subsequent offenses of mere possessions carry 10 to 20 years in federal prison.

It should be noted there is an affirmative defense to a charge of mere possession of child pornography in subsection (a)(4).  This defense to the federal charges is available for a defendant who possessed less than 3 contraband images or videos, and promptly notified law enforcement and provided them access, or had taken reasonable steps themselves, to destroy child pornography without sharing them with anyone else.

This defense is not typically available for a federal child pornography prosecution, but does provide relief for those who inadvertently download only one or two child porn images.

Related Federal Offenses for 18 U.S.C. § 2252

18 U.S.C. § 1461 – Mail obscene or crime inciting material
18 U.S.C. § 1462 – Import or transport of obscene material
18 U.S.C. § 1465 – Transport obscene material for sale or distribution
18 U.S.C. § 1466 – Engage in the business of selling obscene material
18 U.S.C. § 1470 – Transferring obscene material to minors
18 U.S.C. § 2251 – Sexual exploitation of children
18 U.S.C. § 2251A – Selling and buying of children
18 U.S.C. § 2252A – Activity relating to material containing child pornography
18 U.S.C. § 2252C – Misleading words or digital images on Internet
18 U.S.C. § 2260 – Producing sexually explicit depictions of a minor to import

Federal Child Pornography Defense Lawyer

A criminal prosecution for child pornography under 18 U.S.C. 2252 will expose you to decades in a federal prison. If you have been accused of a federal child porn offense, you will need to retain a federal criminal defense attorney familiar with sex crimes to protect your rights even before the court process begins.

Early intervention into your case by our law firm can have a tremendous impact on the outcome of the case. We need to first review the details in order to develop a strategy to keep you from being convicted and sentenced to federal prison time.

Your consultation is strictly confidential. We have a track record of success. Call our law firm to review your case.

Eisner Gorin LLP
1875 Century Park E #705
Los Angeles, CA 90067

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...


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