When people think of someone arrested for child pornography, the typical image that comes to mind is that of an old man with a stash of inappropriate pictures of children on his computer. Increasingly, however, one of the most common scenarios where possession or distribution of child pornography is charged is when minors text sexually explicit pictures or videos to one another. Our Atlantic City child pornography possession lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain when these charges can be filed and how you can fight them.
When Can Minors Be Charged with Possession, Production, and Distribution of Child Pornography in New Jersey?
In New Jersey, this type of “sexting” is prosecuted under N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4, which makes it illegal to record or take pictures of a child engaged in a “prohibited sex act” or to “knowingly possess or knowingly view” material that depicts this kind of act. A “prohibited sex act” can include mere nudity, “if depicted for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification.”
Put simply, this means that a minor who sends their boyfriend or girlfriend a naked picture can technically be prosecuted for the production of child pornography, even if the image produced is a picture of their own self. Furthermore, the recipient can be charged with possession even if they did not request that the image be sent. If a minor forwards the pictures to others, they can be charged with further distribution. While this may seem like the law punishing the very individuals it is ostensibly designed to protect from child endangerment, many prosecutors take this situation extremely seriously and the consequences for minors can be dire.
Penalties for Child Pornography Possession for Minors in New Jersey
Possession of child pornography is considered a third-degree crime in New Jersey. This means a minor in receipt of naked photos or sexually explicit videos from another minor could be punished by three to five years in prison (juvenile hall in this case, since this is a juvenile crime). They could additionally face a fine of up to $15,000.
Distribution of child pornography is considered a second-degree crime in NJ. This means that a minor who sends a lewd picture or explicit video to another minor or to an adult could face between five and ten years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $150,000.
Juvenile Criminal Charges for Child Pornography Possession in NJ
When a minor is charged with a crime in New Jersey, the case will take place in the juvenile court system. The juvenile court system is not open to the public, and all records produced in juvenile court are sealed when the minor turns 18, although they can be unsealed for a variety of reasons, including applications for certain state licenses. However, there are notable differences if a minor is convicted of child pornography charges as opposed to another crime.
Anyone in New Jersey convicted of a sex crime, including the possession or distribution of child pornography, is required under Megan’s Law to register as a sex offender, typically for the rest of their life. This is true even if the person is under 18 and has sealed court records.
Upon release from incarceration, the individual is required to register their address with the local police department in the town where they plan to live. The county prosecutor’s office will then classify the offender based on the “Registrant Risk Assessment Scale” produced by the State of New Jersey. The individual will be classified as either Tier 1 (low risk of re-offense), Tier 2 (moderate risk of re-offense), or Tier 3 (high risk of re-offense). In addition to being required to register with their local police department, Tier 2 and 3 offenders are also included in an online sex offender registry where the public will see their photo, address, and other identifying information.
How Can I Fight a Child Pornography Charge Against My Minor Child?
There are ways to fight child pornography charges filed against minors before they lead to a conviction and the lifelong consequences that come along with it. This is why it is vital to retain an experienced Atlantic City criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible.
A few years ago, New Jersey passed a law (N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-71.1) allowing certain minors charged with sexting crimes to be placed into a diversionary program rather than face charges in the juvenile courts. To be eligible for this program, both the creator and subject of the pornographic material must have been juveniles at the time of its creation and transmission, and the case must have involved the use of an electronic device like a cell phone.
If placed into this program, the minor will be required to participate in and complete an educational program. If the program is completed successfully, the charges will be dropped and the minor will not be convicted of a sex crime. However, this program is not mandatory, and it is up to the discretion of the court as to whether to place the minor into the program in place of official criminal proceedings. An experienced attorney in this area will know how to zealously advocate to the prosecutor and explain why their client should be allowed into this program.
If the court decides to proceed with the charges instead, an experienced attorney can also tackle the issue of intent. For example, the law states that anyone who “knowingly possesses or views” child pornography is guilty of a crime. If the minor in question received a sexually explicit text but did not know what it was until after opening it, an attorney can argue that this was not done with “knowing” intent and therefore was a not a crime.
Call Our New Jersey Child Pornography Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation
Minors caught “sexting” in NJ can face far-reaching, serious consequences leading to conviction under child pornography statutes. If you find your child in this situation, it is essential to protect their rights and shield them from potentially life-long repercussions by consulting with legal counsel as soon as they are charged. If your child was arrested on child pornography charges in New Jersey, contact the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today for a free legal consultation by calling (609) 616-4956.