Undoubtedly, online communication capabilities via computers, tablets and cellular phones have greatly increased the opportunity for criminals to make connections of a sexual nature with children and adolescents. In response, government authorities have had to expand their investigative techniques and legislatures have clarified and strengthened their criminal laws to crack down on such activity.
The commonwealth of Virginia is no exception with its tough criminal laws and sanctions for such crimes. Virginia online sex crimes concerning child pornography and solicitation of minors are examples.
Online child pornography crimes
It is a crime in Virginia to produce, reproduce, possess or distribute child pornography, including on a computer or online, or to operate a website that charges money to view child pornography. Prison terms for child porn crimes are stiff and longer if the subject is under 15, if the defendant is at least seven years older than the victim, or if the offense is a second or subsequent violation.
However, the length of imprisonment can get much longer because of three aspects of the law:
- Multiple counts can be charged based on multiple images. For example, the child porn production statute includes a definition of the illegal visual material as being three or more images or videos in a temporary Internet cache, or one visual representation that depicts certain more serious sexual images. Obviously, a high number of images could generate multiple charges and each one has its own prison sentence.
- For child porn convictions when defendants are at least seven years older than the victims or commit repeat offenses, mandatory minimum prison terms are imposed.
- In 2013, the law was strengthened even more by requiring that all mandatory minimum prison terms be served consecutively, one after the other, and not concurrently, or at the same time.
These incarceration requirements can easily stretch the length of imprisonment stemming from one arrest into decades behind bars.
Online child solicitation
Virginia crimes concerning online sexual solicitation of minors have very similar aspects. In particular, law enforcement may go undercover online, posing as children and conversing with adults about topics likely to trigger the crime of solicitation. If the targeted defendant carries on a series of conversations, each one could become a separate count.
Vigorous criminal defense
Virginia takes Internet sex crimes very seriously, especially those involving children, as the possibility of decades of prison indicates. In addition, such a defendant will later need to register as a sex offender, making him or her ineligible for certain jobs and further harming his or her reputation.
Anyone under suspicion or investigation for such a crime should speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as early as possible. A defense lawyer who has handled Virginia sex crimes can advise his or her client about dealing with the authorities, represent him or her at the bond hearing and launch an investigation to be sure police have not crossed the line in their eagerness to gather evidence for the prosecution. Legal counsel can advise a defendant whether negotiation of a plea deal is smart, or whether the matter is better handled in trial.
Possible criminal defenses to Virginia online sex crime charges may be entrapment, or violation of the constitutional protection of free speech and against unreasonable search and seizure. Perhaps the images or messages were not generated by the defendant or not illegal. But the ramifications of a conviction could potentially cripple a defendant for the rest of his or her life, and knowledgeable legal advocacy against such charges is a must.