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What Are Wisconsin's Child Pornography Laws?

Wisconsin’s child pornography laws make it illegal to possess or view a visual depiction of a child engaged in sexual conduct, including in a text message. Breaking the state’s child pornography laws is a felony with the possibility of prison and fines.

Anyone facing child pornography charges needs a sharp criminal defense attorney. At the Law Offices of Anthony J. Cherella, we offer the skill and experience to fight accusations of sex crimes.

Child Pornography Cases in the News

Anecdotal evidence is backed up by statistics: Internet crimes against children appear to be trending upward. In 2018, Wisconsin has 2,198 cases reported. That number has steadily increased each year, with 4,645 in 2021. The same is true on the federal level.

In October 2022, several individuals were reportedly arrested, charged, or sentenced for alleged child pornography activity:

Oct. 20: A Cumberland man indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of distribution and possession of child pornography turned himself in to the United States Marshal Service.

Oct. 19: An Elk Mound man who had multiple files of child pornography on his home computer has been convicted of possessing child pornography. The sentencing date is Jan. 31, 2023.

Oct. 17: A former pastor was sentenced to 16 years in prison for possession of child pornography charges. A reported lack of accountability led to the sentence, which exceeded the recommendations of a pre-sentence report and prosecutor.

Oct. 12: A Sun Prairie teacher was charged with three counts of producing child pornography. The indictment alleges he intentionally used a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct to produce a visual depiction of such conduct.

Oct. 10: A Janesville, Wisconsin man wanted on child pornography charges was arrested in Fort Dodge on Friday. He had failed to appear for two counts of possession of child pornography.

Defining Possession of Child Pornography

According to Wi. Stat. Ann. § 948.12, anyone suspected of violating the statute is charged with a Class D felony. If the accused is under 18 at the time of the offense, the charge is a Class I felony. Class D felonies carry penalties of up to 25 years in prison and/or up to $100,000 in fines. With a Class I felony, penalties include up to 3.5 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines.

In 2012, legislation set a mandatory prison sentence of 3 years per count of possession of child pornography.

The law defines child pornography possession as the following:

  • Whoever possesses, or accesses in any way with the intent to view, any undeveloped film, photographic negative, photograph, motion picture, videotape, or other recordings of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct under all the following circumstances may be penalized:
    • (a) The person knows that he or she possesses or has accessed the material.
    • The person knows or reasonably should know, that the material that is possessed or accessed contains depictions of sexually explicit conduct.
    • The person knows or reasonably should know that the child depicted in the material who is engaged in sexually explicit conduct has not attained the age of 18 years.
  • Whoever exhibits or plays a recording of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct, if all the following apply, may be penalized:
    • The person knows that he or she has exhibited or played the recording.
    • Before the person exhibited or played the recording, he or she knew the character and content of the sexually explicit conduct.
    • Before the person exhibited or played the recording, he or she knew or reasonably should have known that the child engaged in sexually explicit conduct had not attained the age of 18 years.

A person convicted of child pornography possession may also be required to join the sex offender registry.

Penalties for Sexual Exploitation of a Child

Being convicted of sexual exploitation of a child is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 40 years in prison and/or up to a $100,000 fine. Convicted individuals under the age of 18 are sentenced as a Class F felony with prison sentences of up to 12.5 years and/or fines of up to $25,000.

Sexual exploitation is using, inducing, or otherwise coercing a child into sexually explicit conduct while being recorded or displayed in any way (such as live streaming). The charge is also possible for someone suspected of profiting or promoting such material.

Child Pornography Can Become a Federal Crime

Not all child pornography cases are decided at the state level. For example, federal pornography charges may apply if illegal images are transported across state lines or national borders. This also applies to images shared and viewed over the internet.

A first-time offender of producing child pornography is sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in federal prison and a maximum of 30 years. A minimum of 5 years in federal prison (and up to 20 years) is the sentence for those convicted on federal charges of transporting child pornography.

A defendant can potentially face both state and federal child pornography charges.

Child Pornography Charges Have a Devastating Impact

Crimes involving children are among the most reviled in the United States. More than other types of suspected crimes, the court of public opinion is quick to convict on child pornography suspicions. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Cherella is unafraid of difficult cases. His aggressive and targeted approach is designed to reduce the chances of incarceration as well as harm to relationships and reputation.

When you need strong criminal defense counsel, contact Anthony Cherella. He is available 24/7. Call (414) 882-8382 for a consultation.