The FBI recently uncovered a dangerous child sex trafficking sting. As a result, three Pennsylvania men have been charged under federal child trafficking and obscenity laws. Each of the three men faces one count of attempted sex trafficking of a child and one count of attempted enticement of a minor. Law enforcement officers discovered the men attempting to entice minors to engage in sex acts in exchange for money.
One of the suspects attempted to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity with him over the internet and in a commercial sex act. The maximum penalty for these crimes is life imprisonment, and federal courts must impose at least a 15-year prison term on each of the men. The FBI in Philadelphia, along with local law enforcement, assisted in the case.
The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS)
The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) is a division of the Department of Justice responsible for investigating and prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and the distribution of obscenity. The CEOS is an agency that investigates and prosecutes federal obscenity violations and child sex crimes, including the following types of crimes:
- Violations of federal law related to child pornography
- Prostitution of children
- Extraterritorial sexual exploitation of children
- International parental kidnapping
What Constitutes Obscenity?
Many Americans assume that all speech is protected under the First Amendment. However, certain types of speech that fall under the category of federal obscenity laws are criminal offenses. The federal government defines obscenity as any type of speech that does not meet the Miller test criteria established by the Supreme Court. A defendant can face federal charges for obscenity when his visual depictions, spoken words, or written words fail to meet the Miller test. Under federal law, it is illegal to do any of the following with obscene material:
- Produce with intent to distribute or sell
- Engage in a business of selling or transferring obscene matter
It is impossible to give a clear-cut definition of obscenity. Instead, chords use a three-part test to determine whether certain material is obscene. First, they asked whether or not the average person, using contemporary community standards, finds that the work appeals to prurient interest when taken as a whole. Second, the court examines whether the average person would find that the work described hardcore sexual conduct in a patently offensive way or depicts such conduct. Finally, the court will ask whether a reasonable person will find that the work lacks literary political, artistic, or scientific value.
Federal and state governments can prohibit obscene depictions as long as they meet this three-part test. When pornography falls within the obscenity test prongs, federal and state governments can also regulate it. Any type of obscenity and pornography-related to children always deemed to be illegal under federal obscenity laws, regardless of any literary or artistic value.
Penalties for Violating Federal Obscenities Laws
Those convicted under federal obscenity laws face imprisonment and fines. Typically, you will not face criminal charges for possessing obscene matter in private, but the act of receiving obscene matter may violate federal laws when you use mail or common carriers. Keep in mind that interactive computer services can meet the “transportation” requirement for federal charges. In many cases, the CEO team works with local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute federal obscenity crimes.
Distributing Obscene Material to Minors
Under federal law, distributing any type of obscene material to minors is prohibited. You can face criminal charges for transferring or attempting to transfer obscene material to a minor under the age of 16, including transferring obscene material via the Internet. Additionally, using a misleading website domain with the intent to trick minors into seeing harmful material is also prohibited. For example, suppose you use the name of a well-known children’s TV program to create a website that contains pornography or other obscene material. In that case, you can face federal criminal charges.
Depicting Minors Engaged in Sex Acts is a Crime
Creating drawings, cartoons, paintings, or any other visual representation of minors engaging in sexual activity is also considered obscene and illegal under federal law. Typically, defendants charged with obscenity crimes involving minors face harsher penalties and obscenity violations that only involve adults.
You Need an Experienced Lawyer
Investigations involving obscenity charges often take a significant amount of time. Like the case mentioned above, many of these investigations involve an ongoing sting operation. If you suspect that the federal or local law enforcement are investigating you, it is essential that you hire an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. You should not wait until you have been charged with a federal obscenity crime to hire an attorney, and an attorney will be able to protect your rights during the investigation.
Defenses to Federal Obscenity Charges
Federal obscenity charges are extremely serious, and they can result in decades in jail. Developing an effective defense strategy is incredibly important. You could deny that you knew about the scene and material or pornographic images police allege you created. You could also argue that the material you possessed does not meet the requirements for obscenity under federal law. Finally, you could argue that someone else placed the obscene material on your computer, not you.
Call Our Federal Obscenity Defense Lawyers Today
Facing federal obscenity charges can be overwhelming and seem daunting. However, you must not put off contacting an experienced lawyer. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement are adept at pressuring suspects to give false confessions or agree to plea deals that are not advantageous. They may try to scare you when they do not have as much evidence as they claim. The sooner you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer, the better. Contact Kenneth N. Cutrer, Attorney at Law today to schedule your initial consultation.