New Jersey lawmakers are considering a bill that would toughen penalties against those convicted of producing, distributing and having child pornography. Sen. Kevin O’Toole, who sponsored the bill, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the prevalence of child pornography has increased in recent years, especially through the internet.
Attorney General Jeff Chiesa testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject today, which is very unusual, but O’Toole said his office was largely responsible for redrafting the tougher bill and it was therefore appropriate. Chiesa has said eliminating child pornography is one of his priorities.
O’Toole said from 2011 to 2012, law enforcement agencies throughout the country have found 55 percent more images of child pornography on the internet than they did in the prior year. He explained that the New Jersey law has loopholes where criminals who share information and images can’t necessarily be charged with distribution if they use certain peer-to-peer networks.
“This upgrades the penalty first of all from a second degree to a first degree more importantly and makes sure they serve 85 percent of their time,” O’Toole said. “It moves the age of the kids under protection from 16 to 18 and has mandatory sentencing and also allows in certain circumstances the judge to have lifetime parole supervision for some of the criminals.”
When asked how teenage perpetrators might be prosecuted, O’Toole said if they knowingly participate in the distribution of child pornography, they would likely be dealt with similarly as adults. “If they are knowingly either soliciting or acquiring child pornography, they’ll be dealt with in the same manner,” he said. “I assume they would be tried as an adult or as an adolescent depending on the circumstances of the case.”
O’Toole explained that an accidental viewing wouldn’t be prosecuted. “Those individuals that have literally hundreds of images, that this is a full-time perverse hobby, those are the ones they are going after,” he said.
Some debate whether an image is pornography or art. O’Toole said that decision would be left up to law enforcement personnel and judges, explaining the proposed bill would just stiffen the penalties for those found to be engaging in child pornography and its distribution.
“I have not seen a single case in recent memory where they have an attorney general going out and prosecuting a family member for what is deemed an innocent childhood picture,” O’Toole said. “There’s a hardcore pornographer who’s engaging in tragic obsession that is just by leaps and bounds growing on the internet. Those are the ones we are going after.”
The occurrence of child pornography seems to be growing. According to O’Toole, an agency that was tracking child pornography more than 1,500 in 2008 and 58 percent of them were within the United States.
“Many of these individuals have literally hundreds of thousands of images and they’re drawn to this subculture that’s known to very few, but it’s growing,” O’Toole said. “So when we look at the child porn statute here in New Jersey, we had to mirror it to the federal which is much tougher and find other elements that needed to be strengthened and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
The bill addresses those producing the child pornography as well as those distributing and possessing it. “If you are causing an individual to engage in child pornography, if you are in the distribution, the production of it, all the penalties will be moved from a third degree to a second degree or a second degree into a first degree,” O’Toole said. “Again, those individuals who are involved as co-conspirators, conspirators, they will be dealt with harshly.”