Child Pornography and Life Imprisonment

According to a press release from the DOJ, a Philadelphia man has been sentenced to life in prison after having been convicted in May for “advertising, transporting, receiving and possessing child pornography.”

There are a couple of things to be gleaned from this.  First, in the federal system, life means life.  Parole was abolished in the 1980s.  And while credit for good time is available for sentences which are for a term of years, such is not the case for life sentences.

Second, the individual in question was eligible for life imprisonment because he had two prior state convictions for the same behavior.  That, at least, is what the DOJ press release says.   Getting there is actually a little more complicated.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 2252A, there are a wide range of activities that lead to federal criminal liability, including, but not limited to, knowingly transporting child pornography; knowingly receiving or distributing child pornography; knowingly reproducing child pornography for distribution; knowingly advertising or soliciting child pornography; and a few other activities.

The penalties for being convicted under this statute are pretty severe ranging from 5 to 20 years, or up to 10 years (depending on the act), for a first time offense.  If a person has a prior conviction under certain federal statutes, or under relevant State statutes, then the punishments increase to a minimum of 15 years up to 40 years, or a minimum of 10 years up to 20 years (again, depending on the act).

You’ll notice that life imprisonment is not an option solely on the basis of having a prior conviction.  Life imprisonment, however, is an option if the individual is convicted for operating a “child exploitation enterprise.”  The range of punishment for being convicted of a child exploitation enterprise is no less than 20 years imprisonment and up to life.

And what is a child exploitation enterprise?  “A person engages in a child exploitation enterprise for the purposes of this section if the person violates [certain statutes] as a part of a series of felony violations constituting three or more separate incidents and involving more than one victim, and commits those offenses in concert with three or more other persons.”  18 U.S.C. 2252A(g).

I’m not sure, without having the indictment on this case before me, whether subsection (g) was indeed what was implemented in this case.

It also bears mentioning that section 2252A is not the only federal statute covering child pornography, as there are a whole slew of overlapping statutes that cover sex crimes.