The advent of “selfies” has overtaken social media to such an extent that you would think that selfies are a very recent invention, but that is not the case. The first selfie to be recorded in the history books was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839! Of course, they did not have smartphones back then so Cornelius used a photographic process that was known as daguerreotype and is famous for being the first way to produce photographs that were made widely available. This process was extremely difficult and tedious, especially compared to just simply having to click on a smartphone! Cornelius had to stand in front of his photographic equipment for up to fifteen minutes to get that first selfie! You can well imagine that selfies back then were certainly not as common as they are today; in fact, the word selfie is recent and attributed to Australia, in Cornelius’ day these photographs were simply called “self-portraiture. 

Nowadays, since just about everyone has a smartphone, selfies are extremely common, with some people sharing multiple selfies on social media daily. While most of the selfies being shared in this way are completely harmless, some can actually be a criminal act if they happen to involve minors with nudity or anything of a sexual context. The law takes such cases very seriously so they should be avoided at all costs. Pornographic selfies with minors can lead to serious criminal charges and time behind bars; anyone who is charged with such a crime needs help from an experienced criminal law attorney as soon as possible.

Selfies and Child Pornography

Our world has changed drastically during the past few decades, with technology constantly improving at such a pace that the law finds it hard to keep up. It is not uncommon for authorities to have to deal with digital offenses that are not even on the books, so they have to try to apply existing statutes as they see fit. When it comes to child pornography, federal law recognizes the term as meaning any visual representation of sexually explicit activity that involves a minor; selfies fall under this category, meaning that if there is a minor present in a selfie in any kind of sexual manner, it can be considered child pornography. Crimes that involve child pornography are prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice so there is no lack of funds or manpower to bear all the weight of the law on offenders in any state or even internationally. The U.S. Department of Justice takes what it does very seriously and child pornography cases get extreme attention because of the fact that minors are involved.

Possible Penalties

Serious federal charges await those who the U.S. Department of Justice believes to be engaging in child pornography, including selfies. But that is not all, the specific state in which the crime takes place can choose to file state charges as well. Child pornography is such a serious offense that Congress has saw it fit to revise the federal sentencing guidelines related to this crime nearly a dozen times in the past few decades, resulting in longer and longer sentences for those who are convicted; these harsh penalties are intended to send a message not just to those who have been convicted of child pornography but to those who would engage in such activities. For example, a person who is convicted of distribution of child pornography will face a sentence of 5 to 20 years in federal prison; the sentence becomes 15 to 40 years in federal prison if this person has a prior conviction for a sexually related crime. Plus, the minimums are mandatory so there is no way of getting out of serving at least the minimum.

When Minors are Charged with Child Pornography

Up to this point, we have been talking about adults who break child pornography laws with selfies that feature minors, so I might think that if a minor does the same thing he or she will not be charged, but that is far from the truth. In recent years, some states have chosen to pursue child pornography charges against minors who send selfies or other digital content that depict other minors or even just themselves in sexual situations. Because so many teens have smartphones and access to the Internet these days, the number of them who are engaging in “sexting” is alarming, especially since it is a crime that carries severe penalties. Despite being minors, those who are convicted of this crime are also facing a considerable amount of time behind bars so it is definitely a very serious matter that can affect them now and for the rest of their lives.

The Future of Child Pornography Laws and Selfies

If what Congress has done over the past few decades is any indication, federal authorities will continue to seek extremely harsh penalties for those who are convicted of child pornography.; this probably holds true for state authorities as well. The fact of the matter is that it is very hard to be sympathetic to someone who has engaged in child pornography, although there are many gray areas with this subject because most people would agree that a grown man who distributes selfies or other digital content that depicts nude minors or even worse is not the same as a high-school kid sending a nude selfie of himself to his girlfriend; the law has a long way to go when it comes to differentiating these and other different situations that can all be categorized as child pornography. 

Fortunately, some lawmakers recognize the need to broaden what constitutes child pornography and how to deal with different cases properly. Another issue that some states have run into but have been working hard to correct is that of possession. There have been cases where defendants have been set free because they did not actually “posses” the child pornography in question since it was on the Internet, but lawmakers have been closing such loopholes in the law effectively and that sort of defense would no longer stand a chance in most courts.

Should You Seek Legal Counsel?

At this point, you should understand how important it is to refrain from sending or even taking selfies with minors that could be seen as sexual in nature. Someone might think that simply because there is no sexual activity of any kind in the selfie that it is fine, but if a minor is dressed provocatively or in a sexual pose that could cause someone else to disagree and lead to authorities getting involved. If you are charged with child pornography because of a selfie, you will soon realize how troubling your situation is. You need to contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can to that he or she can help you figure out what the best legal strategy to battle the charges is and implement it quickly. Do not expect the prosecution to be lenient at any stage of the process, especially because of the nature of the charges; you need experienced counsel and you need it fast.  

Check out our most recent blog post about Asset Forfeiture and White=Collar Crime.