Can I Get Arrested for Accidentally Downloading Child Pornography in Utah?

Finally home from a long day of work, you decide to unwind with some mindless internet time. You’re scrolling through Facebook, browsing around on Reddit, looking for some entertainment for the evening. You click on a link or file, thinking it’s a TV show you’ve been meaning to catch up on – only to realize you’ve just accidentally opened child pornography. You close the tab immediately, but now you’re starting to panic. Did you just commit a crime? Could you really be convicted of a felony and get placed on the Sex Offender Registry, just for making an honest mistake? In this article, Salt Lake City sex crimes attorney Darwin Overson will explain Utah’s child pornography laws – and the potential consequences of breaking them.

Is it a Crime to View Child Porn by Mistake in Utah?

Each state has its own set of child pornography laws. Utah’s are located under Utah Code § 76-5b-201, which refers to child pornography offenses as “sexual exploitation of a minor.” Section 1 of the statute outlines two ways to be charged with sexual exploitation of a minor:

  • Knowingly possessing child pornography, with or without intention to distribute.
  • Intentionally distributing or viewing child pornography.

The statute explicitly specifies “knowing” and “intentional” possession, viewing, and distribution. As defined by Utah Code § 76-2-103, a person acts knowingly when “he [or she] is aware of the nature of his [or her] conduct or the existing circumstances.” A person acts intentionally when “when it is his [or her] conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result [of the conduct].” This is echoed in the federal child pornography statute, 18 U.S. Code § 2252A, which also specifies that a defendant’s conduct must be “knowing.”

judge banging a gavel criminal defense attorney

With that in mind, it is crucially important to contact an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer if you are ever accused of viewing, possessing, or distributing child pornography in Utah. Sexual exploitation of a minor is a second degree felony, the most serious type of crime other than first degree felonies like murder, rape, and aggravated robbery.

In addition to receiving costly fines and a lengthy sentence – up to $10,000 and 15 years in prison – a defendant who is convicted will also be forced to register as a sex offender. The requirements for Utah sex offenders are extremely strict, encompassing everything from random polygraph tests to mandatory blood draws to restrictions on where the convicted offender may work and live.

Is it an Affirmative Defense to State You Didn’t Know a Minor’s Age?

Utah has earned a reputation for being tough on sex offenses, and it is extremely difficult to defeat sex crime charges without experienced legal representation. Despite having a lower incarceration rate than many other states, Utah still incarcerates disproportionately large numbers of sex offenders, who accounted for approximately one third of the state’s prison population as of 2013.

Furthermore, state law outright prohibits the use of certain defenses. For instance, Utah Code § 76-5b-302 specifically states that “it is not a defense to [sexual exploitation of a minor] that the accused did not know the age of the victim,” which means a defendant can have criminal liability for intentionally viewing pornography which he or she thought depicted adults. In fact, the statue provides only a single affirmative defense to the charges, which is that “no person under 18 years of age was actually depicted.” (In other words, the only defense is that no child pornography ever existed in the first place.)

Additionally, Utah Code § 76-5b-201(3) provides that a defendant may be charged with a separate offense for each individual minor who is depicted in the pornography, and for “each time the same minor is depicted in different child pornography.” This means a single image or movie could potentially lead to multiple counts of the same crime. Moreover, the prosecutor is not required to prove the identity of the minors who were depicted in the pornography.

If you or someone you love has been charged with possession of child pornography in Utah or the surrounding area, including Davis County, Utah County, and Tooele County, it is critically important to contact the criminal defense attorneys of Overson Law LLC. With over 16 years of experience handling a variety of misdemeanor and felony sex crimes, we are equipped with the skill, knowledge, and tenacity to aggressively challenge the allegations against you. We will answer your legal questions, protect your Constitutional liberties, and fight hard to have the charges dismissed or reduced.

To start discussing your situation in a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call our law offices at (801) 758-2287 right away. Our attorneys are here to assist you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including emergency jail and holding center visits.