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Priest's state pornography crimes dropped, federal charges remain

Possessing child pornography is a serious crime that carries substantial penalties. Further, because child pornography crimes often involve the Internet or other channels of interstate commerce, suspects can be charged with both state and federal crimes. Maryland or Washington, D.C., residents who are accused of or charged with Internet sex crimes will need a strong criminal defense attorney to combat the severe consequences of a conviction.

In early January, a Catholic priest pleaded not guilty in federal court to two counts of receiving and possessing child pornography. He had previously been charged in state court for the same crimes, but state prosecutors chose to drop the charges, possibly indicating that they didn't have the evidence to convict the priest.

The investigation of the priest was triggered by a church employee's call to the Catholic Child Abuse Hotline. She claimed to have observed allegedly pornographic images on the priest's computer.

As is common in many sex crimes cases, the priest's career was immediately damaged just by an accusation; the Catholic Church immediately suspended the priest and reported him to law enforcement. A search of the priest's property allegedly revealed approximately 5,000 pornographic images.

Punishments for child pornography crimes

The priest is now awaiting trial, and is facing significant time in prison. Federal prosecutors have taken over the case. Under federal law, possession of child pornography is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Receiving child pornography on a computer carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

In addition to a prison sentence, someone in Maryland and Washington, D.C., convicted of child pornography crimes will usually have to register as sex offender. As a result, the person's address, vehicle information, place of employment and other identifying facts will be made available to the public, along with a description of the crimes of which the person was convicted.

Prison sentences are hard, but the court of public opinion can be just as damaging. Even people who are charged with child pornography crimes, but ultimately not convicted, can face life-long challenges.

Source: Reuters, "Pittsburgh Priest Denies Child Pornography Charges," Alexis Kunsak, Jan. 6, 2012

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Law Offices of
James N. Papirmeister, Esq.

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As Published in Washingtonian Magazine | Washington's Best Legal Minds | 2013