Defending Internet Crimes Against Children

Defending Internet Crimes Against Children

Never before has it been so vital to obtain the most experienced legal representation one can afford when accused of an internet crime involving children. A network exists whose sole purpose is to track down perpetrators of child sexual exploitation. This network is comprised of highly skilled, technologically savvy individuals hungry for convictions. Defending clients being investigated by these units requires equally savvy criminal defense attorneys and computer experts.

Recognizing an increased risk of technology-facilitated exploitation of children, the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) created a federal program to combat this in 1998. Known as the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, this program works in conjunction with local, regional, and state law enforcement to provide resources to investigate, interdict, and prevent Internet crimes against children. In Michigan, the ICAC task force agency is based with the Michigan State Police and features officers from other counties as well.

The ICAC program involves 61 coordinated task forces representing over 3,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. ICAC also provides investigative and forensic technical support to law enforcement and prosecutors. Additionally, ICAC distributes educational materials to parents, educators, law enforcement, prosecutors, and others concerned about the welfare of children.

A concerted effort is being made to stamp out the sexual exploitation of children. Since the program’s inception, ICAC task forces have reviewed over 280,000 complaints resulting in more than 30,000 arrests. In 2011, ICAC investigations led to more than 5,700 arrests, over 45,000 forensic examinations of digital evidence, while identifying hundreds of abused or neglected children in the process. Furthermore, the types of crime the ICAC task force investigate include traveling (i.e. luring a child and one party traveling across state lines intending to engage in child sexual abuse); online child enticement; obscenity directed to minors; child prostitution; and the manufacture, distribution, or possession of child pornography. Also, Congress passed the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008 to improve the ICAC task forces, increasing regional resources for computer forensic labs, and for other improvements designed to aid law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting additional defendants.

Additionally, Project Safe Childhood is a comprehensive strategy that has worked with the ICAC task forces nationally since 2006. The DOJ expanded this in 2011 to include all federal crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children, including sex trafficking of a minor. Sex offenders failing to register now also fall within this program’s purview. Since the program’s launch, the United States Attorneys Offices has increased prosecutions by 40%.

Another group that works in partnership with ICAC task forces is the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) via Operation Predator. Under this program, ICE agents have made over 8,000 arrests since 2003. ICE also created the National Child Victim Identification System collaborating with many other agencies. ICE also fights child sexual exploitation internationally and is a member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, joining law enforcement agencies worldwide.

In our Michigan cases, we have seen federal investigators from the various Homeland Security agencies such as the FBI, Secret Service, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and even Postal Inspectors. The state component always involves detectives and troopers from the Michigan State Police, along with local police and sheriff department detectives. There activity often involves enticing individuals they find on the Internet into the commission of a crime. This might involve purchasing pornography directly from a government agent or attempting to set up a liaison with a detective posing as a child. Since the crimes generally involve the use of computers, there are additional criminal charges typically added to a criminal complaint or indictment, which penalize the use of a computer in the commission of a crime.

Since these investigations involve federal, state and local agencies, the prosecution can easily be done in federal courts or state courts. Therefore, the prosecuting authority can be the United States Attorneys office, the Michigan Attorney General’s office or a county prosecuting attorney.

Investigations often start with an agent simply surfing the net, or an alert from you Internet service provider. Once a target of the investigation is located, it is common for there to be a series of Internet exchanges back and forth. This is often followed by the execution of a search warrant in the home, which results in a seizing of computers, cell phones, hard drives and other storage devices. It is also likely that any print CSAM (child sexually abusive materials) would be seized.

Simply deleting data from a computer will probably not be enough to shield individuals from prosecution. Members of the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit (CCU) utilize their investigative expertise during forensic examinations or online tracking and may still unearth the data in question through a sophisticated reconstruction of the data on your storage devices.

Defending an Internet crime indictment requires extensive knowledge and skill. You should not settle for a garden-variety criminal defense attorney if you are facing these charges. Strong legal advocacy is needed to preserve a defendant’s rights and avoid long prison sentences. If you are the target of a criminal investigation for computer crimes involving children, the attorneys at Kronzek & Cronkright, PLLC are available to assist you.