Federal trials in Washington, DC are very serious in nature. The rules that govern trials are the federal rules of criminal procedure and evidence; these rules are adhered to strictly in federal trials as opposed to some state court cases, where things might be more loosely applied. The prosecutors in federal court also tend to be more experienced because prosecutors operate on a rotating basis and don’t get to work in federal court until they’ve worked for a few years in other rotations in local court. With these things in mind, it is important that anyone facing a federal charge has an experienced DC federal child pornography lawyer with them and are aware of what they should expect once they step into the court room.
In federal criminal trials, as in all criminal trials, the prosecution presents its case first. That involves having witnesses testify and admitting documents. The actual evidence of child pornography usually consists of videos, still images, or files that were discovered.
At the end of the government’s case, the defense makes a motion for judgment of acquittal, which means the the defense argues that even if the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the elements of the charge have not been met.
Following that, the defense can choose whether or not to put on evidence. There is no obligation by the defendant to put on a defense. If the decision is made to put on a defense, then documents can be admitted and the defendant can choose whether or not to testify. A defendant has the absolute right to testify or not to testify. If the defendant decides not to testify, then the judge will tell the jury that they cannot consider that at all, and cannot hold that against the defendant.
Following the defense case, there will be closing arguments by the prosecutor and the defense lawyer. Afterwards, the jury deliberates and either reaches or does not reach a verdict.
Judges treat child pornography charges a little bit differently as the years have passed, and this is reflected in reduced sentences in the District of Columbia.
Ten years ago, a typical sentence for someone convicted of possession of child pornography had ranged from 12 – 15 years. The reduction has occurred in part because of studies that show there is not an extremely strong correlation between someone possessing child pornography and actually physically harming a child. Judges are becoming more likely to sentence people below what the federal sentencing guidelines dictate in a child pornography case. In the District of Columbia in particular, the sentences are being reduced.
The nuances are not necessarily specific to the District of Columbia. However, in the United States Sentencing Guidelines, there is a provision called “use of a computer,” which enhances a guideline range for someone convicted of possession of child pornography when a computer is used in the possession.
That guideline was implemented many years ago before computers and the Internet were as prevalent as they are today. Now, just about every person convicted of possession of child pornography is subject to that enhancement. Criminal lawyers in some cases have successfully argued in the District of Columbia that this amounts to “double counting” and therefore the enhancement should not be applied.
In other words, the “use of a computer” should not constitute an enhancement because it is now part of the charge. Child pornography possessions are related to the Internet or to a computer almost one hundred percent of the time.
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