College Student Arrested for Building Web Site Where Users Can View and Download Child Porn

August 31, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

As a South Florida cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I don’t write about every child pornography case in the news because there are so many. But a case covered by the St. Petersburg Times Aug. 25 caught my attention because it came with a twist: The defendant is accused of not only possessing child pornography, but building a site online where users could trade it. Gary Lee Peel, a 19-year-old student at St. Petersburg College, faces 20 counts of child pornography possession and two charges of promoting child pornography.

According to the Times, Peel was caught when he allegedly uploaded a pornographic video onto a file-sharing Web site. This caught the attention of the private National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which tipped off the authorities. The CyberCrime Task Force from the Florida Attorney General’s office traced the upload to Peel’s computer -- then discovered that he also built and maintained the Web site. All in all, investigators say they seized hundreds of images and videos, as well as two computers and other electronics. Of course, they also shut down the site.

The article does not specify what penalties Peel faces. But as an Orlando cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I know it’s likely to be a long prison sentence. The penalty for possession of child pornography in Florida is up to five years in prison for each image -- meaning Peel could get up to 100 years for the possession charges alone. Promoting a sexual performance by a child -- that is, providing, making or distributing such material -- is a second-degree felony carrying up to 15 years for each charge, meaning he might face another 30 years for those. Those penalties could be even higher if prosecutors find evidence that Peel was involved in making the images, a very serious crime.

These are gravely serious charges that will have a profound effect on Peel’s future. In fact, even if he is ultimately found innocent, he could still face a serious social stigma and unfair persecution because our society abhors this type of crime. In my role as a Miami-Dade cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I fight hard for the rights of clients charged with sex crimes involving children, because I know that emotions sometimes overwhelm the logical judgment of law enforcement officers and prosecutors. In fact, even these days, officers and prosecutors may not have the technological savvy to understand exactly who has control over what data. This can lead to wrongful charges against computer users whose only mistake was to leave their computers vulnerable to tampering.

In these cases, I can use my own experience as a former cyber crime prosecutor to find evidence that might ultimately clear the client of wrongdoing. If necessary, I can even bring in outside computer forensic experts to track down the truth and testify to it before a jury. Without a doubt, child pornography crimes shock the conscience -- but when emotions run high, the civil rights of defendants aren’t always respected. As a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime defense lawyer, part of my job is to seek the truth and protect my clients’ legal rights -- even if it makes me unpopular.