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Defenses to a child pornography charge in Pennsylvania

On Behalf of | Feb 8, 2018 | Sex Crimes

A previous blog post discussed the Megan’s Law registration requirement in Pennsylvania. Certain sex offenders who have been classified as sexually violent predators must register with the Pennsylvania Police Department for either ten years or for life, depending on the underlying offense. Although those convicted of a child pornography offense are not typically considered sexually violent predators, those who have multiple convictions for offenses related to sexual abuse of a child based on child pornography charges may be required to register and provide personal information to the public such as their names, home and employment addresses, photos and license plate numbers.

Failure to comply with registration requirements may result in a criminal punishment of up to ten years’ imprisonment. However, there are some legal defenses available to those falsely accused of a child pornography offense in Pennsylvania, including evidence of age, accidental viewing and possession for a bona fide purpose.

If the alleged victim was over the age of 18, then the defendant may not be charged with a child pornography offense. Expert testimony is sufficient to establish age. However, it is important to note that mistake as to age is not a valid legal defense, therefore a defendant may not avoid a child pornography conviction by claiming he or she thought the alleged victim was of legal age.

Also, a defendant must have intentionally – meaning deliberately, purposefully and voluntarily – viewed the prohibited material. Therefore, another legal defense is accidental viewing; if a defendant accidentally or inadvertently viewed the material, they may not be convicted of the child pornography offense. Finally, a defendant may claim that they possessed the material for a bona fide educational, scientific, governmental or judicial purpose.

Additionally, the laws of criminal procedure apply to sex crimes including child pornography offenses, therefore how the evidence against the defendant was obtained must be examined. Evidence such as the defendant’s computer or cell phone generally must have been seized with either consent or a search warrant. Any evidence that was seized unlawfully is labeled “fruit of the poisonous tree” and may not be used against the defendant in court. A future post will delve into the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine and how it may be used in criminal defense.