Fort Lauderdale Cyber Crime Criminal Defense Attorney on Context and Child Pornography

May 5, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

As a cyber crimes criminal defense lawyer in South Florida, I was interested to find another case of overzealous prosecution under child pornography laws. This one isn’t about “sexting” -- it’s about those naked bathtub photographs that many people take of their children. According to the York (Pennsylvania) Daily Record, a 59-year-old woman there was publicly prosecuted for taking this type of photo of her three-year-old granddaughter. The charges were dropped, but only after 15 months and a public arrest that the woman described as overly rough and violent.

According to the newspaper, Donna Dull dropped off her film at a Wal-Mart in 2005. An employee there called police after noticing that several photos, but not the entire batch, showed the granddaughter without her clothes during a bath. The police arrested her on child pornography charges in the parking lot of a mall, where she was surprised to hear police shouting for her to drop what she was carrying and get out of the car. In a lawsuit, Dull said the officers used excessive force in the arrest, slamming her into a parked car so hard that she sustained back injuries.

Fifteen months later, after looking at the case “very closely,” York County District Attorney Stan Rebert dropped the charges. The prosecutor who originally authorized those charges is now in private practice, but told the Daily Record that “There was no legitimate purpose for those photographs.” By contrast, York County’s special prosecutor for child pornography crimes, Christopher Moore, said child pornography laws shouldn’t stop loving parents and grandparents from taking photos of their kids. “It’s not what the [child protection] law was designed for,” he told the newspaper.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s not clear from the article whether Dull’s actions violated the letter of the law, but it seems from the article that she had no intention of violating its spirit. As a Miami cyber crimes criminal defense attorney, I believe this is a crucial difference. Because of how child pornography is made, child pornography charges are extremely serious. And they carry the penalties to match, including decades in prison and lifelong sex offender registration requirements.

Before we levy those punishments at people, we owe it to them to ensure that they are truly guilty. As with “sexting,” this woman may be guilty of bad judgment, but as a Fort Lauderdale cyber crimes criminal defense lawyer, I believe it does not serve society to treat her like a hardened criminal.