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What happens if you are charged with possession of child pornography in Houston?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Possession of child pornography is an extremely serious offense in Texas. A conviction for possession of child pornography could lead to prison time and sex offender registration. The reality is that even the mere accusation of possession of child pornography can create terrible consequences for a person. If you have been charged with possession of child pornography anywhere in the Greater Houston area, it is critical that you speak with an experienced sex crimes attorney right away. 

Under Texas Penal Code 43.26, a person commits the offense of possession of child pornography by knowingly or intentionally possession or accessing with the intent to view, images of children under the age of 18 engaging in sexual conduct. A first offense for possession of child pornography is charged as a third-degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. 

A person who is charged with possession of child pornography is eligible to receive probation. However, if a person is placed on a regular or deferred adjudication probation for possession of child pornography, the person would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. 

With the stakes being so high, it is critical that a sex crimes attorney conduct a thorough investigation and attack the prosecutor’s case in every way possible. In order to evaluate the case, it is necessary for the defense attorney to obtain all of the evidence. In a possession of child pornography case, that includes police reports, witness statements and electronic records and computer forensics. 

In most child pornography cases, the critical pieces of evidence are computer forensics and statements made by the defendant. Computer forensics refers to law enforcement’s investigation into any computers or electronic devices that were seized as a part of the investigation.  When law enforcement conducts a search and seize electronic devices, they do an extensive search on the device to determine what sites or computer programs have been accessed and what images have been viewed or downloaded. Even though the user of a computer may have attempted to delete images or information from a computer, it is still probable that it still exists on the computer in some form. Because virtually all child pornography cases filed now involve the sharing of digital files, prosecutors will have expert witnesses who will discuss the nature of the evidence found on an electronic device. 

In many possession of child pornography cases, the other key piece of evidence will be any statements made by a defendant. If there is a police raid, and the defendant is there, the police will typically attempt to get a statement from the defendant. When law enforcement interviews a defendant in a possession of child pornography investigation, the goal is to get the defendant to admit that he is guilty by establishing that he knowingly viewed and possessed the images and that no one else had access to the computer. Very often, law enforcement will conduct such an interview without properly advising the defendant of his rights or applying some form of psychological pressure to coerce the defendant into giving a confession.  

It is critical for a sex crimes attorney to challenge both the computer forensics and any statements given by a defendant. To challenge computer forensics, in a possession of child pornography case, it will typically be necessary for the defense to obtain their own expert to do his own investigation to challenge the prosecutor’s expert’s conclusions and possibly to establish that the images may have been downloaded to the defendant’s computer by some other means, such as a computer virus. Experienced sex crimes attorneys regularly work with computer forensics experts that can attack the work done by the police. 

Depending on the facts, it may also be possible to challenge the reliability or admissibility of a confession. If the police obtained a confession illegally (for example, by not reading a suspect his Miranda rights), then it is possible that a confession could be kept out of court. 

Even where the police didn’t violate a suspect’s rights, it is possible that a confession could be discredited as being unreliable: Many defendants charged with possession of child pornography have never been in trouble before. When the police raid their home and take away their devices, a defendant may feel pressure to tell police what they want to hear, particularly when law enforcement tells a defendant that they are just trying to help him (which is never true – the police are never acting in the interests of a suspect of a crime, especially not a suspect in a possession of child pornography investigation). 

In a possession of child pornography case, a criminal defense attorney should be simultaneously attacking the prosecutor’s case, while also preparing for a possible sentencing. The reality is that defendants charged with possession of child pornography run a very high risk of ending up in prison. While the goal is to always obtain a dismissal of the charges, it would be irresponsible of a criminal defense attorney to neglect to obtain evidence that could lead to a lighter sentence. One key piece of sentencing evidence could be an assessment from a psychiatrist showing that a defendant does not meet the profile of a sex offender and is unlikely to re-offend. 

The attorneys at Ceja Law Firm have extensive experience in cases involving possession of child pornography and have obtained outstanding results for clients charged with all types of sexual offenses throughout the Greater Houston area. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has handled sex offenses both as a prosecutor and defense attorney and has obtained “not guilty” verdicts and Grand Jury “no bills” in a wide variety of sex cases. Attorney Abigail Anastasio is a former prosecutor and District Court judge who has extensive experience in sex cases. If you are charged with possession of child pornography or any sex offense in the Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation. 

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.