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I’ve Been Charged with a Federal Sex Crime – What Are My Legal Options?

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 02:21 pm


I’ve Been Charged with a Federal Sex Crime – What Are My Legal Options?

Being charged with any crime can be scary, but federal sex crime charges carry especially serious penalties. If your facing charges like possession of child pornography, sex trafficking, or traveling across state lines to engage in illegal sexual activity, it’s critical to understand your legal options and build the strongest possible defense.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – these types of allegations can completely turn your life upside down. But there are steps you can take to protect your rights and future. In this article, I’ll walk through the legal process from start to finish, including:

  • Understanding the charges against you
  • Hiring the right federal criminal defense lawyer
  • Navigating pre-trial procedures and plea bargains
  • Key defenses that could weaken the prosecution’s case
  • Potential sentences if convicted at trial

My goal is to give you a clear overview of the road ahead so you can make informed decisions. Let’s get started.

Step 1: Understand the Charges Against You

The first thing your attorney will do is analyze the exact statutes you’ve been charged under in the federal indictment. Some common federal sex crimes include:

  • Possession of Child Pornography – It’s illegal under 18 U.S.C. §2252 to knowingly possess, distribute, or access with intent to view any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. Penalties are harsh, including potential minimum sentences of 5-15 years per image.
  • Sex Trafficking – Under 18 U.S.C. §1591, it’s illegal to recruit, harbor, transport, or broker commercial sex acts with an adult through force, fraud, or coercion. Penalties range up to life imprisonment.
  • Traveling to Engage in Illicit Sex – The Mann Act prohibits traveling interstate or internationally to engage in any illegal sexual activity with a minor. This carries up to 30 years imprisonment.

Step 2: Hire an Experienced Federal Sex Crimes Lawyer

These cases are extremely complex, so it’s essential to have an attorney with specific experience in federal sex crime defense. Here’s what to look for:

  • Knowledge of federal sentencing guidelines – This is critical for plea negotiations and sentencing mitigation.
  • Relationships with prosecutors – Your attorney may be able to negotiate more effectively, especially if they have a track record of taking cases to trial.
  • Comfort with technology – These cases often involve forensic computer analysis, so tech fluency is key.
  • Resources for expert witnesses – You’ll likely need computer experts or psychologists to challenge the prosecution’s evidence.

It’s also crucial that you feel comfortable with your attorney’s approach. Some take a more aggressive stance, while others focus on damage control. Consider your personality and goals – an attack dog lawyer isn’t always the best fit.

Step 3: Understand the Pre-Trial Process and Plea Options

After charges are filed, your case will go through these general phases:

  1. Initial appearance – This is when charges are formally presented and bail is determined. Plead “not guilty” at this stage.
  2. Preliminary hearing – The prosecution must show probable cause that you committed the crime(s) charged. Your lawyer may cross-examine their witnesses.
  3. Grand jury – Prosecutors present evidence to obtain an indictment affirming your charges. You cannot mount a defense here.
  4. Arraignment – You enter your “guilty” or “not guilty” plea. This is your formal response to the charges in the indictment.
  5. Motions and plea negotiations – Your attorney may file motions to suppress evidence or dismiss charges. Plea bargain negotiations also typically occur.
  6. Trial – If no plea is reached, your case proceeds to a bench or jury trial. The prosecution must prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Step 4: Understand Key Defenses That Could Strengthen Your Case

While each case has unique facts, some common defenses in federal sex crime cases include:

  • You didn’t commit the crime – Seems obvious, but could apply if you weren’t properly identified or someone else used your device or IP address.
  • Illegal search and seizure – If evidence was obtained without a warrant or probable cause, your attorney can seek to suppress it.
  • Entrapment – You may have a defense if the government induced you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t.
  • Diminished mental capacity – In some cases, mental disabilities can negate criminal intent required for conviction.

Other technical defenses depend on the specific charges – for example, arguing the images don’t meet the legal definition of child pornography. Your lawyer will analyze the evidence to craft the strongest defense.

Step 5: Understand the Potential Penalties if Convicted at Trial

It’s critical to understand your sentencing exposure if you lose at trial. Federal sentencing follows strict guidelines under the U.S. Sentencing Commission system. Key factors include:

  • Your criminal history level
  • The charges convicted of
  • Sentencing enhancers like number of images, victim age, distribution, etc.
  • Acceptance of responsibility if pleading guilty
  • Mandatory minimums required by statute

While judges have some discretion, they are constrained by the guidelines. And federal parole was abolished in 1987 – the sentence imposed is served at 85%. Meet with your lawyer to understand the realistic range if convicted.


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