Child pornography crimes are extremely serious in Massachusetts, as they are across the United States carry serious penalties designed to protect the vulnerable status of minors. In addition to prison time and fines, a child pornography conviction means the defendant will have to register with the Sex Offender Registry Board, which is a public record of where sex offenders are living, working, and/or attending an institute of higher learning in the Commonwealth.  This can only be avoided if the defendant is found not guilty. These are child pornography crimes under Massachusetts law and their penalties.

Dissemination to a Minor of Matter Harmful to Minors
The law defined under MGL c. 272 s. 28 states that it is a crime to disseminate, or intend to disseminate,  material that is designated as harmful to minors. Dissemination refers to the importation, publishing, producing, printing, manufacturing, distributing, selling, leasing, exhibiting or displaying the material. Harmful to minors describes obscene material that describes or represents nudity or sexual themes intended for sexual arousal of the viewer,is contrary to the national standards of material appropriate for minors, and does not have serious artistic, literary, political or scientific value.

This includes electronic messaging.

The penalties for this crime are:

  • Up to a maximum of 5 years in state prison or 2.5 years in a jail or house of correction
  • Fine of up to $10,000 to the first offense, $20,000 for the second offense, and up to $30,000 for the third offense

There are several defenses that can refute this charge. 1) In the case of electronic messaging, it has to be proven that the defendant knew that the person they communicated with is indeed a minor, 2) the defendant was acting in their role as an employee of a library, school or museum, and 3)  that the defendant possessed the material but did not intend to disseminate it.

Dissemination of Visual Material of Child in State of Nudity or Sexual Conduct

Under MGL c. 272 s. 29 states that it is a crime to disseminate visual material of persons under 18 years old that are in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual conduct. A child under 18 is determined not to be able to provide consent to any activity by the defendant.

The dissemination must be with “lascivious intent,” which means the objective of the act of dissemination is for sexual arousal or gratification. A defense against lascivious intent is that the dissemination of the image is for medical, scientific or educational purposes on behalf of a school, museum or library. 

A conviction is punishable by:

  • A minimum of 10 years and up to 20 years in prison
  • A fine between $10,000 – $50,000, or three times the amount of any money made from disseminating the material, whichever is greater.

Knowingly Purchasing or Possessing of Visual Material of Child Depicted in Sexual Conduct

As well as disseminating child pornography, it is also against the law to purchase or possess it. According to MGL c. 272 s. 29c, it is a crime to knowingly purchase or possess sexual images of children under the age of 18, including in a magazine, film, slide, book, negative, videotape, photograph or digital images. The punishment if convicted for the first offense:

  • Up to five years in state prison or two and a half years in a jail or house of correction
  • A fine between $1,000 – $10,000

For the second offense:

  • A minimum of five years in state prison
  • A fine between $5,000 – $20,000

For the third offense:

  • A minimum of ten years in state prison
  • A fine between $10,000 – $30,000

The only exceptions that apply to this law are individuals who possess the material in the context of their professions, such as law enforcement, doctors, psychologists, or attorneys, and employees of organizations that aim to restrict access to child pornography, such as through the screening of online content.

Defenses Against Child Pornography Charges

In order to be convicted of a child pornography crime in Massachusetts, the prosecution must prove a number of actions and intents beyond a reasonable doubt. Depending on the charge, this may include that the defendant:

  • Knew the contents of the material
  • Disseminated the material in question on purpose, or intended to disseminate it
  • Knew or believed the person in question was a minor
  • The intent behind disseminating, possessing or purchasing the material was lascivious

Material Does Not Meet the Legal Definition of Child Pornography

One of the possible defenses against child pornography crimes is that the material in question does not meet the legal definition of child pornography, for example, that the person depicted in the image is over 18. There are detailed criteria in the law about what body parts, bodily positions and actions portrayed in images that legally define an image as child pornography.  If the material is of scientific, artistic or educational value, this is does not meet the definition of child pornography.

Unknown or Unintended Possession of Child Pornography

An essential component of a child pornography crime charge is intent. If the defendant did not intend to possess or disseminate the material, that is a valid defense against the charge. For example, if the defendant opened an email in their spam folder, and an attachment with a false file name turned out to be an image meeting the legal definition of child pornography, the argument can be made that possessing the image was not intentional.

Intent Was Not Lascivious

In order to be convicted of a child pornography crime, the defendant’s intent by creating, possessing or disseminating an image must be for the purposes of sexual arousal. However it can be argued that the intent was not in any kind of sexual context, for example, a parent shares a nude photograph of their child at the beach, or a photo was taken due to a medical concern to share with a doctor.

Contacting a Lawyer When Charged With a Child Pornography Crime

If you are facing a child pornography crime charge in Massachusetts, there is far too much at stake for your personal and professional reputation. You need an experienced, aggressive defense attorney to handle your case and fight for your rights. Contact us for a free consultation.