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How Innocent People Can be Accused of Child Pornography Crimes

No one wants to end up in a situation in which they’re being falsely accused of a crime, particularly if that crime is something as serious as possession of child pornography. Unfortunately, it can be easier than you might expect for these images to infiltrate an electronic device without your knowing about it or intending to possess them. How exactly can something like this happen?

Accidental Downloading or Viewing

The internet contains a great deal of unlawful pornography that innocent people stumble upon every day. Accidental downloading of child pornography is actually quite common and occurs most often during the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing programs. These networks are largely unregulated, and although many programs like LimeWire and Kazaa have been shut down, there are others that still exist.

When someone downloads music or videos through a P2P network, a shared folder is created on his or her hard drive containing the downloaded file. The problem is that the files may not be accurately named and therefore give the downloader no indication that what they’re actually downloading is child pornography. Although a user can delete the file, this does not remove it from the hard drive. Because these folders are publicly accessible, anyone – including law enforcement – can view their contents. Courts have ruled that the police do not need a warrant to search them because the user doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Anyone believing they have accidentally downloaded illegal material should contact a lawyer immediately for advice on their rights and how to proceed. There are ways to demonstrate you did not intentionally possess child pornography: innocent search terms; a shared folder with contents that, apart from the child pornography file, are otherwise legal; evidence that the files were never viewed; or a timestamp suggesting deletion shortly after download, among others. However, it’s usually better to avoid the use of P2P networks that can put you in this situation.

It is also possible that you came into possession of the child pornography through other means – perhaps you unwittingly clicked on a link in an email. In that case, the content of the email and your internet browsing history might help to establish that you did not intend to access child pornography.

Computer Viruses, Malware, and Hackers

Although you might assume you’re in the clear if you don’t use any P2P file sharing programs, that isn’t necessarily the case. Virtually everyone connected to the internet is a potential victim.  If your computer becomes infected with a virus or other malicious software (malware), it could result in the downloading or storing of illegal content without your knowledge. There have been cases where a virus was programmed to visit numerous child pornography sites every minute or a malware program generated pop-ups containing illegal pornographic images. Hackers also have the ability to gain remote access to a computer and store or plant child pornography.

Fortunately, a few basic security precautions can go a long way in protecting you. You should not open email attachments or click on links from unknown senders, and never download free software from sites that are not trustworthy. It’s also best to avoid using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection or, if you do, to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service or app. Finally, ensure that you have well-configured and updated firewalls and anti-virus software.


While sexting is common among teenagers, it also constitutes, believe it or not, the crimes of possessing and even producing child pornography.

That’s right. First, child pornography is generally any sexual image of a person younger than 18; the image need not feature a six-year-old. Second, there is no exemption from criminal liability for persons who are about the same age as the person shown in the image. Thus a 17-year-old who receives a sexual photo of another 17-year-old is in possession of child pornography.

And if the first 17-year-old asked the second 17-year-old to take that picture, both of them are guilty of production of child pornography! There may not be many prosecutors who would charge either of them, but there are probably some.

Talk with your teen about the potential consequences of sexting so that they are equipped to protect themselves from receiving illegal pornographic images of another minor. And tell them to come to you if they find themselves in this kind of jeopardy.

If you’ve been charged with a child pornography offense or are the target of an investigation in Washington, The Marshall Defense Firm is here to help. Our experienced, skilled team of defense attorneys would be happy to discuss your case with you. Please contact us at 206.826.1400 or to schedule a consultation.

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