Leon County’s ICAC and Digital Forensics Unit

February 1, 2023 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

When law enforcement believes an individual is suspected of possessing or distributing child sexual abuse material (CSAM), there are certain techniques and task forces that can be assigned to the case. In Leon County, the Sheriff’s Office uses the North Florida ICAC Task Force (NFITF), which comprises over 35 Florida counties.

Leon County also implements a Digital Forensic Unit, which is used to uncover digital evidence in a criminal case. This article will provide information on types of internet crimes against children, the ICAC task force, Digital Forensic Unit, along with possible criminal charges in Florida.

Internet Crimes Against Children

As the online world becomes more advanced with new technology, so does the ability to commit crimes via the internet. A 2001 report from the U.S. Department of Justice stated that the nature of internet crimes presents new complex challenges for law enforcement agencies. The DoJ warned of the internet’s new and effective way to anonymously exploit and groom children for criminal purposes. These purposes may include possessing, producing, or distributing child pornography, among other charges.

Over 20 years after the publication, law enforcement agencies are still navigating how to track down and prosecute those accused of internet crimes against children. Now with the use of cell phones, iPads, and other personal digital devices, it has become even more prevalent for people to send and receive child sexual abuse material. Whereas child predators previously found victims in public spaces common for children—schools, playgrounds, shopping malls, etc.—now it has become easier for potential predators to seek out minors online.

Due to the new-age threat of online crimes such as child pornography or the use of a computer to solicit a child, local and State law enforcement agencies have created task forces to prevent and prosecute those accused of internet crimes against children.

ICAC Task Force

According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), various states have implemented a task force to fight internet crimes against children. The International Crimes Against Children (ICAC) includes both local and state law enforcement task forces to respond to individuals who have been accused of child exploitation, child obscenity, and child pornography cases.

Within each local and State task force, the national program requires the following:

  • Inclusion of local and State investigators, prosecutors, forensic specialists, and education specialists who are dedicated to addressing the goals of the task force;
  • Engagement in ongoing investigations, forensic examinations, and prosecutions of internet crimes against children;
  • Providing forensic, preventive, and investigative assistance to parents, educators, prosecutors, law enforcement, and others concerned with internet crimes against children;
  • Developing multijurisdictional, multiagency partnerships and responses to internet crimes against child offenses with ongoing informational, administrative, and technological support to other local and State law enforcement agencies for such agencies to acquire the necessary knowledge, personnel, and specialized equipment to investigate and prosecute such offenses;
  • Participate in nationally coordinated investigations where the Attorney General determines participation necessary;
  • Establish standards for investigating and prosecuting that are consistent with the established norms, to which the task force shall comply;
  • Investigate and seek prosecution on tips regarding internet crimes against children, including tips from:
    • Operation Fairplay
    • National Internet Crimes Against Children Data System
    • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline
    • ICAC Task Forces
    • Other local, State, and Federal agencies
  • Developing procedures to handle evidence seized by ICAC task forces and affiliated agencies;
  • Maintaining reports from the OJJDP and other records determined by the Attorney General; and
  • Seek to comply with the national standards in regard to investigating and prosecuting internet crimes against children, which has been set forth by the Attorney General, to the extent that such standards are consistent with the State law where the task force is located.

North Florida ICAC Task Force

The North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) has been hosted by the Gainesville Police Department since it was first established in 2003. North Florida’s ICAC task force is funded by federal grants, which is necessary with the online exploitation of children, as these crimes don’t often result in 911 calls for service.

The task force’s purpose is to have all members of the agencies’ jurisdiction to cooperate with law enforcement agencies surrounding internet crimes against children. The task force’s network provides the combined resources for joint investigations including municipal, county, State, and Federal authorities. The task force will also provide the opportunity for computer examinations for agencies who do not have that option. Computer examinations are often a main source of evidence in a criminal case involving child pornography or solicitation.

The North Florida ICAC Task Force works alongside the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. In addition, they also work with state agencies such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of the Attorney General.

The following is a list of counties included in the North Florida ICAC Task Force:

  • Alachua County
  • Baker County
  • Bradford County
  • Brevard County
  • Calhoun County
  • Columbia County
  • Dixie County
  • Gadsden County
  • Gulf County
  • Duval County
  • Leon County
  • Marion County
  • Volusia County
  • Wakulla County

To view the entire list of 38 counties included in the North Florida ICAC Task Force, you can view their page here.

Important: The Gainesville Police Department has warned individuals to be aware of possible phone scams which are centered on the ICAC Task Force. Reports of the scam include a caller claiming to be a Detective who has identified a child pornography case, in which the receiving person must wire money to stop the investigation. The Gainesville PD wants to remind citizens that they will never be contacted over the phone regarding payment.

Digital Forensics Unit

Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) has a Digital Forensics Unit that is often used in criminal cases involving internet crimes against children. During a criminal investigation, LCSO will frequently seize and search computers, cell phones, and other digital storage devices that may be associated with the investigation.

The information on these digital devices—whether it be images, videos, or other explicit content—hold valuable evidence that is helpful during a criminal investigation. The Digital Forensics Unit extracts evidence from digital devices to assist with the detectives’ criminal investigation. Areas in which the LSCO Digital Forensics Unit can be implemented are as follows:

  • Financial Crimes
  • Violent Crimes
  • Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC)
  • Burglary
  • Missing Persons

Criminal Charges for Internet Crimes Against Children

If Leon County Sheriff’s Office believes you or someone you know is responsible for an internet crime involving children, the following is a list of potential charges and the penalties  a person may face in Florida:

Possession of Child Pornography

  • Florida Statute Section 775.0847 defines child pornography as any image which depicts a minor engaged in sexual conduct, or an image that has been created, altered, adapted, or modified by electronic, mechanical, or other means to portray a minor engaged in sexual conduct. A person accused of possessing child pornography can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida, which has a penalty of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years of imprisonment. It is important to note that each image or video can result in an additional possession charge.

Sexual Performance by a Child

  •  Florida Statute Section 827.071 explains that a person can be charged with a third-degree felony for knowingly possessing a photograph, motion picture, exhibition, or other presentation which includes any sexual performance by a child. Charges can be enhanced to a second-degree felony for any of the following:
    • Authorizes or induces a minor younger than 18 to engage in a sexual performance, or the parent or guardian consents to the participation by such child in a sexual performance;
    • Directs, produces, or promotes a child younger than 18 in sexual conduct;
    • Possesses with the intent to promote any form of presentation of a child younger than 18 engaged in sexual activity. It is considered prima facie of the intent to promote if the offender had three or more copies of such photograph, video, or presentation.

A second-degree felony has possible penalties of up to a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years of imprisonment.

Use of a Computer to Solicit a Child

  • Florida Statute Section 847.0135(3) explains that it is illegal for any person to knowingly use a computer or internet service to solicit, seduce, or entice a child or a person believed to be a child to engage in any unlawful sexual conduct. It is also illegal to solicit, seduce, or entice the parent or guardian of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual conduct. Any person who violates this law can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida.

The digital age of the internet and social media can make it extremely easy for individuals to obtain child sexual abuse material. Each allegation of child pornography or solicitation will be taken with extreme care, as Florida is known to have extremely harsh consequences for crimes involving sexually exploited children.

Florida prosecutors take the issue of child pornography very seriously. Prosecutors will often charge an individual with multiple counts of child pornography. For example, if the accused had in their possession ten photos of child pornography, then that individual is likely to be charged with ten counts of possession of child pornography.

That being said, it is not impossible for a person to inadvertently download an incriminating file that contains child sexual abuse material. That means innocent people may be facing serious criminal convictions for something they were not aware was even there. That is why it is so important to get help from a legal professional.

Just as Leon County uses the ICAC Task Force and Digital Forensics Unit to prove child sexual abuse material exists on a person’s digital device, a skilled defense attorney will work with computer forensic experts that may be able to provide evidence to dismiss possible criminal charges.

Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or someone you know has been accused of a sex crime involving children, it is of the utmost importance to speak with a lawyer. Getting convicted of a sex crime in Florida has lasting effects. In addition to paying fines, going to prison, or both—a sex crime conviction will require the defendant to register as a life-long sex offender under the State’s Sex Offender Registry. This can prevent a person from buying a house or finding a career. Individuals convicted of sex offenses also deal with the social stigma of being recognized as a sexual offender.

To figure out what possible defenses are possible for your case, contact Pumphrey Law Firm. Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience representing clients from all walks of life in Florida. We will make it our top priority to strategize a strong defense to work toward your freedom. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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