Based largely on electronic evidence, authorities charged a 26-year-old man with several child pornography offenses.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation began investigating the man in June after receiving an online tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children regarding the possible online possession and distribution of child sexual abuse material. Digital forensic investigators and GBI agents searched the man’s Fulton County home for computers, cell phones and other devices, authorities said. The GBI did not provide further details.
This arrest is part of an ongoing, statewide investigation by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
What’s at Stake in a Sex Crimes Case
Probation and other direct consequences are harsh in sex crimes cases. Judges often impose additional restrictive conditions on these probationers, such as GPS monitoring and computer restrictions.
GPS monitoring often resembles house arrest. On weekdays, probationers are free to go to work or school and also run errands. But on nights and weekends, they must stay at home.
As for computer restrictions, this software is usually a combination of filters that block certain content and use logs that track visited websites, search terms, and keystrokes. Federal authorities often use similar technology to restrict computer use among convicted terrorists.
As restrictive as these conditions are, there’s at least a definite and soon ending. Sex offender probation, except in a serious sexual battery case, rarely exceeds one or two years. Sex offender registration requirements last much longer and, unless a Marietta criminal defense attorney intervenes, is often permanent.
This process starts with Sex Offender Registration Review Board (SORRB) evaluation. An attorney can challenge a Level One (low risk of re-offense), Level Two (moderate risk), or Level Three (high risk) designation, usually in court.
Level One sex offenders pay petition for removal as soon as they complete their sentences. Technically, everyone is eligible, but the most likely removal candidates are:
- Romeo and Juliet: This removal argument usually if the defendant was under 19 and the alleged victim was older than 15. These offenses are normally misdemeanors. Furthermore, if you have any dealings with teenagers, you’re aware of the impulsive and reckless decisions they often make.
- Disability: Medically disabled or infirm defendants are entitled to immediate removal as a matter of law. A disability could also be alcohol addiction or another largely self-inflicted condition. If a Marietta criminal defense attorney convinces a judge that the disability caused the offense (e.g. I was drinking when I did X) and the defendant has truly overcome that disability, removal is possible.
- Non-Sexual Offenses: Kidnapping and false imprisonment could result in sex crimes charges. Any defendant that did not commit (or attempt to commit) a sexual offense against that minor could be eligible for removal.
- Low Risk Offender: This category is probably larger than the other three combined. Some factors to consider include no prior sex offense convictions, no evidence the petitioner has committed similar crimes, no weapon used during the crime, the defendant didn’t intentionally harm or restrain the victim, and the victim was not transported to another location.
Unless the defendant had priors, pornography possession offenders are almost always Level 1 offenders, since there is no single victim. Instead, the victims are women and society in general.
The best way to get off the sex offender list in Georgia is not to get on the list in the first place. Several defenses are available in sex crimes cases. More on that below.
Almst all tipsters, including advocacy organizations, have mixed motives. They might honestly want to see a defendant punished for doing something wrong. However, the motivation to make headlines and impress donors or get the defendant in trouble is often just as strong. To evaluate such tips, a judge usually examines several factors, including:
- Track Record: If an informer provided accurate information in the past, the new information is probably accurate as well. But most informants aren’t professional snitches. So, the information could be reliable or unreliable. At the time the tipster provides the information, there’s usually no way to tell.
- Corroborating Evidence: Just like a tiny bit of spice in a stew, a little corroborating evidence makes a big difference. The corroborating evidence could be immaterial to the case at hand. For example, a tipster might tell law enforcement to look for a Chromebook linked to a Starbucks Wi-Fi router.
- Source: Anonymous tips are almost completely unreliable. That’s especially true if the tip was a one-off. If other anonymous callers provided the same information, the tip is more reliable. People who leave their names and agree to testify in court about what they saw are much more reliable.
Paid tipsters who provide information for leniency in another matter or cash are usually unreliable as a matter of law, unless they have positive track records or offer corroborating proof.
Note that there’s a difference between reliability and accuracy. Unreliable information is often accurate, just like reliable information is often inaccurate.
Defenses in Sex Crimes Cases
An unreliable tip is an example of a procedural defense. Other procedural defenses, especially in possession cases, include Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations.
Officers cannot search computers or any other property unless they have valid search warrants, or a narrow search warrant exception applies. As for the Fifth Amendment, defendants not only have the right to remain verbally silent. They also have the right to physical silence. They don’t have to appear in lineups or provide account passwords.
In court, prosecutors must not only produce the allegedly illegal image. They must also prove the defendant saw the image and intentionally kept the image. Pornographic emails often appear in spam folders. Although these images are illegal, the defendant did not possess them, according to Georgia law.
If a procedural or substantive defense is strong enough that it forces prosecutors to re-evaluate their chances at trial, they’re usually willing to make favorable deals, like reducing a felony to a misdemeanor. This reduction means lesser direct consequences and a better chance of getting off the sex offender list in Georgia.
Possession of illegal pornography charges often don’t hold up in court. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.