3 Common Federal Sex Crimes and Their Penalties

In most cases, sex crimes are convicted at a state level. However, when certain federal crimes are committed during the act, or if the crime involved the harm of a child or legal minor, then the charges rise to a federal level.

In this brief article, a federal defense attorney in St. Petersburg with our team at The Rickman Law Firm shares three of the most common federal sex crimes and their penalties.

Possession or Distribution of Child Pornography

Perhaps the most famous federal sex crime is one being charged to Josh Duggar. According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

“Section 2256 of Title 18, United States Code, defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). Visual depictions include photographs, videos, digital or computer generated images indistinguishable from an actual minor, and images created, adapted, or modified, but appear to depict an identifiable, actual minor. Undeveloped film, undeveloped videotape, and electronically stored data that can be converted into a visual image of child pornography are also deemed illegal visual depictions under federal law.”

It’s important to note that the legal definition of sexually explicit conduct does not require that an image depict a child engaging in sexual activity. In fact, a picture of a naked child may constitute illegal child pornography if it is sufficiently sexually suggestive. Additionally, the age of consent for sexual activity in a given state is irrelevant; any depiction of a minor under 18 years of age engaging in sexually explicit conduct is illegal — that means that any sexually suggestive selfie sent during “sexting” activity can constitute child pornography.

A person who is convicted of knowingly possessing child pornography can be sentenced up to 10 years in prison or up to 20 years in prison if the minor depicted in the image is under the age of 12. A person who is convicted of distributing or receiving child pornography faces a 5 to 20 year prison sentence. If the person has prior convictions, the penalties will be higher.

Sexual Assault of a Minor

Sexual assault is prosecuted at the state level, but just as it is federally illegal to participate in, consume, or distribute child pornography, it’s also federally illegal to sexually assault a minor.

However, except in limited circumstances, federal laws typically do not apply to child sexual abuse matters that takes place wholly inside a single state and are typically handled by the state. However, if the sexual abuse of a child occurred on federal lands, the offense may be prosecuted under federal law. Federal lands include areas such as military bases, Indian territories, and other government– owned lands or properties..

Federal law also states:

“…offenders convicted of sexually abusing a child face fines and imprisonment. Furthermore, an offender may face harsher penalties if the crime occurred in aggravated circumstances, which include, for example, the offender used force or threats, inflicted serious bodily injury or death, or kidnapped a child in the process of committing child sexual abuse.”

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking occurs any time a person is trafficked by another person for either servitude or sexual reasons. Although this crime often involves several levels of people and involvement, 18 U.S.C. 1584 outlines penalties for up to 20 years in prison for a defendant who is convicted of holding someone or selling them in involuntary servitude. If serious bodily injury or death occurs, or the crime involved kidnapping or sexual abuse, the defendant could be sentenced to life in a federal prison.

If you’ve been involved in a federal sex crime, contact the best federal defense lawyer in St. Petersburg with The Rickman Law Firm. Your attorney will help you understand the best defense for your specific case.

For a free consultation with the best federal defense lawyer in St. Petersburg, please contact The Rickman Law Firm today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.


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