Registered Sex Offender Sentenced to 35 Years for Production and Distribution of CSAM

February 1, 2023 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes

When a person is accused of possessing child pornography, they can be prosecuted by both the State of Florida and by Federal law enforcement officials. Considering the nature of the crime, prosecutors will try to fight for the harshest penalties in a criminal case involving child pornography.

In a recent federal case, a man has been sentenced to over 30 years in prison for admitting to possessing and viewing multiple examples of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). This article will provide details from the case, along with the federal penalties for child pornography and the dangers of technology.

What was the Case?

Maryland local Justin Michael Peterson, 28, has pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of distribution of child pornography on August 30th, 2022.

According to the report by the Department of Justice, Peterson had used his Instagram account to video chat with a minor in January 2020. Peterson enticed the minor victim to masturbate and insert objects into their anus while Peterson masturbated.

Using specific software, Peterson was able to record the video chat from Instagram and later distributed them to another minor. The defendant had previously exchanged sexually explicit content with the second minor victim on both Snapchat and Kik—two messaging apps. While chatting with the second victim, Peterson mentioned traveling to meet and kidnap them from their home.

Law enforcement arrested Peterson in February 2020, when he admitted to them that he was sexually attracted to minors as young as three years old. During their investigation, police uncovered hundreds of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on Peterson’s phone.

A further forensic examination of his digital devices revealed that Peterson was active in several online chat groups designated for the sexual exploitation of children and distributing CSAM. Several messages sent from Peterson’s device stated that he offered to “rent” one of the minor victims as a “cam slave.”

This is not Peterson’s first conviction—he was previously convicted in 2016 for distributing child pornography and was required to register as a sex offender in Maryland.

Peterson has been sentenced to 35 years in federal prison for the newest charges against him. In addition, Peterson has been sentenced to a 30-year supervised release, in which he will be required to register as a sex offender in any state he resides. Under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, Peterson will be required to inform authorities where he lives, where he studies, and where he is employed.

Peterson’s sentencing was announced by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland, and Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division.

Federal Penalties for Child Pornography

Child pornography is defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct of a minor (a person younger than 18). Under federal law, a person is prohibited from possessing, producing, distributing, or importing any image that may be considered child pornography.

 A person convicted of their first child pornography production offense can face fines and statutory minimum sentencing of 15 years, which can go up to 30 years in federal prison.

A person convicted of their first child pornography distribution offense by transporting child pornography across interstate or foreign commerce can face fines and statutory minimum sentencing of five years, which can go up to 20 years in federal prison.

The harshest of penalties can arise if the defendant has previously been convicted of a crime, or if there are aggravating circumstances. The following is a list of potential aggravating circumstances:

  • CSAM displays violent, sadistic, or masochistic conduct;
  • The minor in the CSAM was sexually abused; or
  • The offender has previously been convicted of sexually exploiting a child.

For any of the above aggravating circumstances, a person can face the federal penalty of life imprisonment.

Important: A person can be prosecuted for a child pornography offense by State, Federal law, or both.

What is Project Safe Childhood?

Project Safe Childhood is a nationwide initiative created to prevent and combat the exploitation and sexual abuse of children. The program was created in 2006 by the Department of Justice. The program is in charge of overseeing local, state, and federal resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children over the internet.

The five essential components which make up Project Safe Childhood are as follows:

  1. Building partnerships
  2. Coordinating law enforcement
  3. Training PSC partners
  4. Public awareness
  5. Accountability

Since Project Safe Childhood was launched, the number of cases prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office has increased by 40%, with 2315 indictments against 2427 defendants in 2009. In addition, Congress passed in 2008 the PROTECT Our Children Act, which provides threat assessments that highlight the magnitude of children exploited online.

These assessments have shown an increase in the following types of child exploitation:

  • Child pornography
  • Online enticement of children for sexual purposes
  • Commercial sexual exploitation of children
  • Child sex tourism

By working with local, state, and federal policing agencies, Project Safe Childhood helps to prosecute the people in Florida—and the rest of the United States—for alleged sex crimes against children.

The Danger of Digital Devices and Child Pornography 

Technology has the power to bring people together across the entire globe. However, there is a dark side to technology which is becoming more prevalent in criminal cases. Individuals who use social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Kik may not be aware that what they publish and share online can be used against them in a courtroom.

We’ve discussed in a previous blog the implications which can arise from sharing incriminating evidence online, as with the example of rapper Tekashi69. If the police believe someone has committed a crime online, they may be able to obtain a warrant to search through all your digital devices.

In a criminal case relating to the possession of child pornography, this is almost guaranteed to happen. However, there are ways in which child pornography can end up on someone’s laptop or phone without their knowledge or consent. Issues with internet viruses have been used as a defense in child pornography cases before; however, the nature of the crime can make it difficult to convince a jury of the defendant’s innocence.

The best way to protect yourself after being accused of possessing any form of CSAM is to contact a skilled defense attorney in your area. Defense attorneys may advise working with a computer forensic expert to review your laptop and cellphone to determine how the materials ended up in your device.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida               

If you or someone you know has been accused of a sex crime, your first step should be to reach out to a sex crime defense attorney near you. Allegations of sex crimes have serious consequences, especially if the victim was a minor. In addition to paying expensive fines and serving time in State or federal prison, a person convicted of a sex crime in Florida is required to register as a Sex Offender for life. This can cause additional damages in relation to finding a house, a job, or maintaining relationships with friends and family.

Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today regarding your specific case. Don Pumphrey and his team have years of experience representing clients across the state of Florida for various criminal offenses. We vow to stand by your side and fight for your freedom. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message for a free consultation.

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