Federal vs. State Child Pornography Charges: Key Differences and Implications

People facing child pornography charges should understand the difference between federal and state charges and the implications of facing prosecution in state court versus federal court.


Federal Child Pornography Law

Child pornography charges under federal law fall under the statute outlawing the sexual exploitation of children. Federal laws make it illegal to employ, use, persuade, induce, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct to produce or transmit a visual depiction of such conduct. A conviction carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison. However, a second or subsequent conviction carries a sentence of 25 to 50 years, while a third or subsequent conviction carries a sentence of 35 years to life.

State Child Pornography Charges in New Jersey

New Jersey makes producing, possessing, or sharing child pornography illegal under the criminal offense of endangering the welfare of a child. A person commits a first-degree crime by causing or permitting a child to engage in a prohibited sexual act or simulation of such act or portray themselves in a sexually suggestive manner with knowledge or intent to photograph or film such act. Photographing or filming sexually explicit conduct involving a child or simulation of such act or a sexually suggestive manner constitutes a second-degree crime.

The law also makes it illegal to knowingly distribute, possess with intent to distribute, or store on a file-sharing program an item depicting sexual exploitation or abuse of a child. A violation involving 1,000 or more items constitutes a first-degree crime; otherwise, the offense constitutes a second-degree crime. Knowingly possessing or viewing items depicting sexual exploitation or abuse of a child ranges from a third-degree to first-degree crime, depending on the number of items involved.

A New Jersey child pornography violation carries severe penalties. Third-degree crimes have sentences of up to five years in prison. Second-degree crimes have sentences of five to 10 years in prison. First-degree crimes have sentences of 10 to 20 years in prison.

Critical Differences Between Federal and State Charges

Federal and state child pornography charges have several key differences. First, child pornography offenses typically get handled at the state court level unless the offense occurs across state lines or national borders or involves the use of the internet or the Postal Service, in which case a person may face federal child pornography charges. A conviction on federal charges also carries much harsher penalties than a conviction under New Jersey law.

Legal Defense Strategies for Those Facing Charges

After an arrest on child pornography charges, a person may have various defense strategies available to contest their charges or pursue a more favorable resolution to their case. Common defenses for possessing or producing child pornography include:

  • Proving lack of possessing child pornography items, including by showing that another person obtained or distributed items using the defendant’s IP address
  • Proving that the pornography does not depict minors
  • Proving lack of intent to obtain child pornography or lack of knowledge that an item depicted sexual exploitation or abuse of a minor

Defense strategies may focus on proving that law enforcement and prosecutors obtained evidence by violating a person’s rights, including through warrantless searches/seizures or obtaining search warrants without sufficient probable cause. An experienced criminal defense attorney knowledgeable with both state and federal law can help explore potential defense strategies for those facing a child pornography offense.

Contact Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help

When facing New Jersey child pornography charges under state or federal law, get experienced legal representation to defend your rights, reputation, and future. Contact Keith Oliver Criminal Law today for a confidential consultation to discuss your options with a knowledgeable criminal trial attorney.

Author: Keith G. Oliver

Founding partner Keith G. Oliver has a passion for helping people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. He believes that everyone has a right to be presumed innocent, and that one mistake shouldn’t define a person forever. This passion drives Mr. Oliver to tirelessly fight for his clients and pursue the best possible outcome in every case.