Sexual Exploitation of a Minor

Table of Contents

The sexual exploitation of a minor is a very serious crime. If convicted, you could face years in prison, devastating restitution orders, and a loss of reputation from which you may never recover.

The American legal system holds that all defendants are innocent unless proven guilty. As such, you have the right to hire a Phoenix sex crime lawyer to defend you and your rights in a court of law. A sex crimes lawyer could present a strong defense to the case against you.

What Is Sexual Exploitation of a Minor?

Arizona law defines sexual exploitation of a minor as any instance when an individual knowingly creates, possesses, or distributes content “in which a minor is engaged in exploitive exhibition or other sexual conduct.” For the purposes of this law, a minor is anyone under the age of 15.

Unlike sexual abuse, where the defendant must personally harm another, sexual exploitation of a minor only requires that you allegedly contributed or sought access to audiovisual footage depicting such abuse.

Under Arizona law, if the footage contains any of the following, it qualifies as the sexual exploitation of a minor:

  • Actual or simulated sex acts
  • Genital, oral, or anal intercourse
  • Sexual penetration
  • Bestiality
  • Sexual acts involving one person or multiple people

How Serious Is the Sexual Exploitation of a Minor?

The law classifies sexual exploitation of a minor as a class 2 felony. This makes it more serious than class 3, 4, 5, and 6 felonies, but less serious than a class 1 felony, as listed by the Arizona Legislature. Class 2 felonies are the second most serious type of crime on the books, so they carry very high penalties.

According to Arizona law, sexual exploitation of a minor is also considered a “dangerous crime against children.” That means anyone convicted of this crime would not be eligible for the lighter penalties (for example, probation instead of prison) allowed by Page 1 of the Arizona Courts’ “Criminal Code Sentencing Provisions.”

Penalties for Sexual Exploitation of a Minor

The penalties you could face depend on whether you have any prior convictions for the same or a similar offense. They will also depend on whether the state charges you with “commercial” sexual exploitation of a minor. Commercial exploitation, when you allegedly produce or distribute the offending content for profit, is a more serious crime than exploitation by itself.

You Could Face Years in Prison

Arizona law states that, if convicted of commercial sexual exploitation of a minor for the first time, you could face:

  • A minimum sentence of 10 years
  • A likely sentence of 17 years
  • A maximum sentence of 24 years

Any prison term must run consecutively; meaning if you are convicted with possessing multiple images you must serve at least 10 years per image.

If this is your second or third offense, the prison sentences go up to:

  • A minimum sentence of 21 years
  • A likely sentence of 28 years
  • A maximum sentence of 35 years

By contrast, a first-time conviction for (non-commercial) sexual exploitation of a minor carries somewhat lighter, but still onerous, prison sentences.

If you are convicted more than once, you may face life imprisonment, and you may not be eligible for parole or a pardon. In short, if you get convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor, you cannot avoid going to prison.

You Could Owe Financial Restitution

Restitution is money paid to the victim of a crime by the convicted perpetrator. Per the Arizona Attorney General, the court could order you to pay for whatever it deems appropriate, such as the survivor’s emergency relocation costs, medical expenses, and other items.

The Court may monitor you and make sure you comply with the restitution order.

The Consequences of a Sexual Exploitation Conviction

The penalties described above could have a detrimental effect on all aspects of your life. Your life would never be the same due to:

Years in Prison

You could spend at least a decade—possibly several decades—behind bars.

This could:

  • Harm your mental health
  • Destroy your relationships with friends and family who believe you are guilty
  • Keep you away from loved ones for extended periods
  • Prevent you from earning the money your family needs
  • Prevent you from fulfilling obligations to your family (for example, raising your children or caring for a dependent)

Prison can be a brutal environment. Spending any amount of time there, let alone decades, would change your life irreparably.

Threats to Your Safety

Prisoners look down on those convicted of child sex crimes. While in prison, you could face numerous threats to your safety, and the prison system may do very little to protect you.

Being incarcerated for exploiting a minor may result in:

  • Physical harm
  • Isolation from other prisoners
  • Ongoing verbal threats to your safety
  • Sexual abuse
  • Long-term disabilities caused by violence

Financial Loss

Going to prison for such an extended period would mark the end of your career. You could not keep the job you have now. Even upon your release, many employers are reluctant to hire individuals with a conviction on their record, leading to long-term economic hardship.

If ordered to pay restitution, the financial stress your family faces could be even greater. They may struggle to pay bills, and they may have to go into debt or reduce their standard of living.

Loss of Reputation

Sexual exploitation of a minorSex offenses are among the most stigmatized crimes in America today. When the victim is a child, the stigma is even greater.

Arizona law requires everyone convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor to register as a sex offender.

Per the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS), this would mean:

  • Having to keep the AZDPS informed every time you move to a new area; failure to report in a timely manner is a class 4 felony
  • Getting a special driver’s license that informs law enforcement of your status
  • Anyone could search the AZDPS’s website and find out you’re a sex offender

When and if your neighbors, employer, landlord, or other parties find out about your conviction, their behavior toward you may change. They may even try to deprive you of employment, education, or a place to live. A sex offense conviction would follow you for the rest of your life.

Fighting Back Against a Sexual Exploitation Charge

Facing any charge, especially one as serious as the sexual exploitation of a minor, can be terrifying. It may help to remember that you are not in this alone. An attorney with experience in sex offense cases can represent your case and make sure the legal system treats you fairly.

They may serve you by:

Investigating the Charge

Your lawyer may first start by investigating the allegations against you.

They could:

  • Take statements from you, the alleged victim, witnesses, character witnesses, and anyone else involved
  • Review the police report and request to see whatever evidence the police have gathered
  • Engage in discovery with the prosecution—this way, your lawyer can see what they have collected and vice versa
  • Ask someone in a relevant field of study (for example, a tech expert, if the images allegedly in your possession were digital) to discuss why you are not guilty

Your lawyer will not rely on what the police or anyone else has already found or decided. Their only job is to find a way to keep you from being convicted.

Getting the Charges Dismissed or Reduced

If the evidence your lawyer finds is particularly strong, or if the case against you is particularly weak, a judge may agree to dismiss the charges against you completely. The prosecuting attorney may also elect to dismiss charges if they realize they have no chance of winning in court.

This may happen if your attorney learns:

  • The police violated your rights by arresting you without cause, taking evidence without a warrant, and so on.
  • There are inconsistencies in the accuser’s story, or the accuser admits to fabricating part or all of the charge.
  • You did not or could not have known the exploitative material was in your possession.
  • You acquired the exploitative material by mistake and had no intention of viewing, selling, or distributing it.
  • The individual in the material is not a minor.

Alternatively, the judge or the prosecution may be open to reducing the charges. In this situation, your lawyer tries to persuade the judge to reduce your charge from a class 2 felony to, for instance, a class 3 felony or lower. This may happen if your lawyer finds evidence that weakens (but does not fully deflect) the prosecution’s charge.

With a lesser charge, even if you were convicted, you could:

  • Avoid severe class 2 felony penalties
  • Possibly avoid having to register as a sex offender
  • Spend less or no time in prison
  • Spend less or no money on restitution

Bargaining for a Plea Deal

Plea deals give the prosecutor a guaranteed conviction. Based on your situation, your lawyer may negotiate a deal, or the prosecution may offer you one.

If you accept a plea deal, the prosecution would reduce the charge in exchange for you agreeing to plead guilty. Unlike a simple charge reduction, a plea deal enables you to avoid a lengthy, expensive, and potentially traumatizing courtroom battle. You would simply accept a conviction, serve your sentence, and move on.

Presenting Your Case in Court

If negotiations are unsuccessful or unfeasible, the case against you will move to trial. Your attorney would then represent you in court.

The trial process can be quite long and include some or all of the following steps:

  • Submitting trial exhibits (evidence) to the court within a given deadline
  • Selecting people to serve on the jury
  • Scheduling the dates and times when the trial will take place
  • Delivering opening and closing remarks to the jury
  • Preparing all of the defense’s witnesses, potentially including you, to testify on the stand
  • Questioning the defense’s witnesses
  • Cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses, with an eye toward destroying their credibility and poking holes in their story
  • Raising objections if and when the prosecution tries to infringe on your rights (for example, by asking a leading question or introducing irrelevant evidence)
  • Providing legal briefs and other official materials as the judge asks for them

The courtroom is a very rigid, unforgiving environment. A single clerical error or missed deadline could endanger your defense. For this reason, you should consider hiring an attorney rather than attempting to represent yourself.

Providing Legal Advice

In addition to dealing with all of the paperwork and the other parties involved in the case, your attorney has one more job: to support you however they can.

They could:

  • Help arrange bail so you can spend the time before trial at home
  • Give you their phone number so you can call or text any time
  • Explain everything you need to know about the law, the charge against you, your defense options, and more
  • Give you advice on what path to take (for example, taking a plea deal versus going to court)
  • Provide a professional, unemotional perspective on your situation

Being charged with the sexual exploitation of a minor is a stressful, frightening experience. Trying to manage your own case would be time-consuming, and there is a significant risk of making a mistake that critically weakens your defense.

What Should I Do if I Face a Sexual Exploitation of a Minor Charge?

There are many things you should do (and avoid) if you’re facing sex abuse charges. Some considerations include:

  • Limiting your social media use. Anything you share online is public record. The prosecution may even take a seemingly innocuous post to paint your character in a bad light.
  • Refraining from communicating with the other party. Child abuse cases are sensitive matters. Even if you just want the other party’s perspective on what happened, this could work to your disadvantage. The prosecution may include you of bullying or threatening the alleged victim.
  • Abstaining from criminal activity. The attorney general’s office may keep a close watch on you after getting charged. Even getting a speeding ticket could complicate your upcoming trial.

You do not have to go through this hard time alone. An experienced Phoenix criminal defense lawyer can do it all for you, allowing you to focus on your own mental health and spend time with loved ones.

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