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The Penalties and Social Stigma of a Child Pornography Conviction
A conviction for possessing or distributing child pornography carries severe penalties, including jail, fines, restitution and registration with the state predatory offender registry.

Minnesota Child Pornography Laws

The state of Minnesota takes child pornography charges very seriously. Under state law, it is a crime to possess or distribute material involving minors that one knows or has reason to know is pornographic (MSA §617.247).

  • A first time possession charge is a felony and offenders may be sentenced to up to five years in jail and/or pay a $5,000 fine. A second offense carries double the penalties - up to 10 years in jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine.
  • A first time distribution charge is also a felony and carries up to a seven year jail term and/or up to a $10,000 fine. Those facing subsequent charges are penalized twice as severally and may be sentenced up to 15 years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine.

In addition to penalties for possessing and distributing child pornography, it is also a crime to distribute pornographic photos, videos or other images to children or someone the person believes to be a child (MSA §609.352).

For example, if an adult believes he or she is chatting with a minor in an Internet chat room and sends the minor pornographic images, the adult could be charged with violating this law. It does not matter if the minor is in reality an adult so long as the individual believed the person he or she sent the image or video to was a child.

The penalties for committing this crime include up to three years in prison and/or up to a $5,000 fine.

Predatory Offender Registration

For many who are convicted of a child pornography charge, the biggest punishment they receive is not their prison sentence, but the requirement that they register with the state's sex offender registry.

This registration requirement may last for 10 years or life, depending on the offense. Those required to register must give personal information about themselves, which may include where they live, work and go to school. They also may be required to provide regularly updated photographs of themselves and submit to yearly in-person meetings with local law enforcement officials.

The stigma of being included on the registry, the onerous registration requirements and penalties for failing to comply with these requirements make the registry a very severe punishment - especially for those who made a one-time mistake.

Who must register?

In Minnesota, this registry is referred to as the "predatory offender" registration. In addition to those convicted of child pornography charges, others crimes that require mandatory registration include:

  • Criminal sexual conduct
  • Murder involving criminal sexual conduct
  • Felony indecent exposure
  • Kidnapping
  • False imprisonment
  • Soliciting a minor to engage in prostitution
  • Soliciting a minor to engage in sexual conduct
  • Using a minor in a sexual performance

Those convicted of these, or similar, crimes in another state who relocate to Minnesota or work or go to school in Minnesota, must also register.

What information must be provided?

Offenders must provide certain information for the registry, including their primary home address, the addresses of all property they own, lease or rent in Minnesota, the addresses of all of the places where they are employed, the addresses of all of the schools they are enrolled in and the year, make, model and license plate number of every car they own and/or drive regularly.

Additionally, offenders must also provide their fingerprints and a recent photograph as well as return a verification of information form. Those who fail to register or knowingly violate any of the registration requirements may be sentenced to additional jail time and receive five additional years on their predatory offender registration period. And, any term of confinement during the registration period, even 1 day in jail, starts the registration period again. Finally, even an unintentional failure to register a change of address carries a mandatory term of 1 year and a day in prison.

How long must offenders register?

In general, offenders are required to register as predatory offenders for 10 years or the duration of their probation, whichever time period is longer. However, certain offenders are required to register for life, including those who have committed murder and criminal sexual conduct. Those convicted of child pornography charges are not required to register for life.

What information is available to the public?

In general, information about those listed on the predatory offender registry is private information and only shared between law enforcement and other governmental agencies. However, there are important exceptions to this rule when offender information is made public.

  • Non-compliance. When a person fails to comply with registry requirements for a minimum of 30 days, their information may become available on a publicly-accessible Web site. The purpose of the Web site is to help local law enforcement locate the individual and get their information up-to-date. Reasons a person may become non-compliant include failing to submit the required information verification form, moving and not updating their contact information or failing to comply with any of the other registry requirements.
  • Level Three Predatory Offenders. Information may also be posted in an on-line, publically accessible database for those who have been classified as Level Three offenders. Level Three offenders are those the Minnesota Department of Corrections has determined are most likely to reoffend. In these cases, Minnesota law provides that local law enforcement agencies may decide how much information about these offenders should be made accessible to the public in order to protect public safety (MSA §244.052)

Restitution

In addition to fines, jail time and predatory offender registration, those convicted of child pornography charges may also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim as part of his or her criminal sentence. Restitution is the payment of a penalty by the offender meant to compensate the victim for his or her losses.

The payment of restitution in child pornography cases is controversial because it is difficult to determine how much any one person should pay for viewing, distributing or possessing images that may have been possessed by countless others. Courts across the country have been split on when to order restitution and how much should be paid, with some courts ordering those convicted of child pornography to pay high amounts, others ordering it but at much lower amounts and some courts choosing not to order restitution at all.

With the uncertainty regarding restitution, an offender ordered to pay it may be faced with a significant financial burden.

Seek Experienced Legal Representation

If you have been charged with child pornography possession, distribution or another related crime, it is vital to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Even if you are merely under investigation for one of these crimes, it is never too early to involve an attorney.

A conviction for child pornography carries significant penalties. These penalties include not only those that may be imposed by a judge, but also those that may be imposed by your community, family and peers. A conviction on these charges may cost you your job and limit your future career options. More than that, a conviction will force you to live with the stigma of being a predatory offender and having to register with the State for at least the next 10 years.

For more information on defending against child pornography charges, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer today.

Keywords: MN, child pornography, predator
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