Friday, February 27, 2015

Under the Guise: 19 Year Old Virginia Male Convicted By Virginia Statute That is Supposed to Catch Dangerous Predators Not Curious Teens

Today I received a Virginia Attorney General email announcement about the successful passage and bipartisan support of SB919 it said that this bill’s passage would  “help protect Virginia children from online exploitation and to allow law enforcement to effectively investigate crimes involving child pornography, child exploitation, and human trafficking. The bills, which have the support of Governor Terry McAuliffe's Cyber Security Commission, the Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Association of Commonwealth's Attorneys, Virginia's Internet Crimes Against Children centers, and the National Association to Protect Children, will ensure that child predators are not tipped off to ongoing investigations and will help law enforcement quickly remove children from dangerous exploitative situations”. You can read the full news release at the link above.
Thirty minutes later I received a plea from a mother of a 19 year old son who has come face-to-face with Virginia’s child pornography statutes, investigators, charges and mandatory minimums. I have removed the specific location of this particular case from the mother’s plea (see below) because it could be ANY 19 year old male anywhere in the Commonwealth.
I want readers (including naysayers, Victims Advocates and the media) to understand just how Virginia is charging, convicting and sentencing the possession, reproduction and distribution of child pornography. Virginia lawmakers, Attorney General’s and Governors would claim that young men who are looking at age appropriate images found on-line for free are not being sent to prison and labeled as lifelong Violent Sex Offenders, but they are.

When harsher bills come before the Virginia Legislators each year to extend mandatory minimums, to add new crimes as registerable offenses and to lower the burden of proof so Commonwealth Attorneys have more “leeway” to get a conviction they have been known to call the people these bills are targeted towards animals, monsters, predators and scumbags. Well the 19 year old young man below is not an animal, a monster, a predator or a scumbag.
But his life is ruined; if he survives prison (as a convicted Sex Offender) he will NOT be the same young man he was when he went in. He will most likely be a sexual assault/rape victim ( , when he is released from a Virginia prison. He will have no college education, no job skills, no prospects for housing, for employment or for finding a wife and raising a family. He’ll be under lengthy VA-DOC supervision, he’ll have to pay for court-order therapy sessions, maybe court-ordered polygraphs or GPS monitoring, he’ll probably be forbidden from having Internet access, but required to find employment, housing and pay court fines.
Every employer, landlord, neighbor and co-worker will see he was convicted of child pornography of a minor but they will never know that the girl in the image wasn’t 4 or 6 years old being sexually abused but instead was around 16 years old and posed for the images and the older he gets the worse the conviction appears to those who find his VSP posting.
The mother below is asking that the Virginia Legislature clarify 18.2-374.1:1 so that no other young men who find free online images that are NOT of young children being abused are not facing the same fate her son is, she also hopes someone in authority can intervene before his sentencing in the first half of March.
Her son’s case is NOT the rare example those who write and approve of our laws would want you to believe it is, it is too common and it is unacceptable!
As I write this, a bright young college student is awaiting sentencing on charges that carry a mandatory sentence that will be keeping him in prison until he is 31.  Tragically our current laws label this promising young author from a middle class family in _________ County as a “violent offender” for the rest of his life.  Despite the fact that he’s never touched anyone or been in trouble with the law before, his life will be ruined because of an imprudent “click of the mouse” involving two photos he posted online at age 19. 
While my son’s choice to post the two photos (on Pintrest) was morally objectionable, it merely shows the immature thinking of a teenager trying to avoid parental controls placed on his computer. He was avoiding the consequences of a mother who did not allow porn in her home. He had no idea what he was doing was potentially illegal based on the potential age of the subjects in the photo. In fact, the two photos in question contained what can only be described as unidentifiable post-pubescent subjects of undetermined age, assuredly older than 16.
The investigating officers who came to our home in _______ 2013 assured us that they were looking for “real criminals” and not immature, socially awkward teenage virgins who were trying to hide their porn. My son honestly answered all their questions.  He confessed to a history of pornography use dating back to the onset of puberty and admitted that as a teenager he had searched for girls his age.  Despite exhaustive searching, no evidence of any illegal content has been recovered from the digital media storage devices or electronics seized from our home. This young man further voluntarily submitted himself to a battery of humiliating and invasive tests given by a clinical forensic psychologist who determined, “Mr. ________ does not pose deviant sexual interests.”
Yet, on _________, 2015, he was convicted by a jury based on VA Criminal Code 18.2-374.1:1(C), which states that the Commonwealth bares absolutely no obligation to provide proof or even guidelines to distinguish illegal from legal pornography. The VA Crime Commission has requested a review to see if clarification is needed. Clearly, it does when a jury can haphazardly decide the fate of a young many using “their best judgment” of the victims’ age. That was the direction my son’s ___________County jury received from the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
I implore you to re-evaluate this statute and this young man’s fate.
Without your intervention, he will likely spend the next decade surrounded by felons, many of whom have been convicted of truly violent offenses. Then, he will be released into the world with a felony conviction that will severely limit his rights as a citizen as well as his options for a future in this country. In today’s Internet world, where porn is sadly pervasive, this young man could be anyone’s child. It’s a scary digital frontier and no one is responsibly defining boundaries.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this critical matter.