By the Numbers: Federal Child Pornography Convictions Across the U.S.

Tracking the numbers of federal child pornography convictions across the country isn`t easy. Federal prosecutors are given broad discretion in what charges to bring (or not bring), and what charges to drop in order to induce a guilty plea. They also control, to an extent, the final sentence by the type of charges they file.

Below are the raw data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission`s (USSC) 2021 Report, Federal Sentencing of Child Pornography Non-Production Offenses (that is, offenders who didn`t take the pictures but only distributed, received, or possessed them). The data highlights the trends and disparities in federal non-production child pornography convictions across the states.

Where Were the Most Federal Non-Production Child Pornography Convictions?

Top 5 states with the most federal child pornography convictions:
Texas (116)
Florida (96)
Missouri (85)
New York (82)
California (71)

Top 5 federal circuits with the most federal child pornography convictions:
Ninth Circuit (221)
Eighth Circuit (188)
Fourth & Fifth Circuits (147 each)
Sixth Circuit (111)

The states and territories within each federal circuit are:

First: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island Second: Connecticut, New York, Vermont
Third: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, U.S. Virgin Islands Fourth: Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia Fifth: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas
Sixth: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee
Seventh: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
Eighth: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
Ninth: Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, N. Mariana Islands, Oregon, Washington Tenth: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming Eleventh: Alabama, Florida, Georgia
D.C. Circuit: Washington, DC

Top 5 federal districts with the most federal child pornography convictions:
Eastern Dist. of Virginia
Middle Dist. of Florida
Western Dist. of Missouri
Southern Dist. of Florida
Eastern Dist. of Missouri

Where Were the Least Federal Non-Production Child Pornography Convictions?

Top 5 states with the least federal child pornography convictions:
Hawaii (1)
New Hampshire (2)
Delaware (4)
Vermont & North Dakota (5 each)
Connecticut & Alaska (6 each)

Top 5 federal circuits with the least federal child pornography convictions:
D.C. Circuit (7)
First Circuit (42)
Third Circuit (74)
Seventh & Tenth Circuits (85 each)
Second Circuit (93)

Most Common Federal Non-Production Child Pornography Convictions by Offense Type

Top 3 non-production child pornography offenses:

Distribution (625)
Possession (569)
Receipt (146)

Federal circuit with the most non-production child pornography distribution convictions:
Ninth Circuit (106)

Federal circuit with the most non-production child pornography possession convictions:
Ninth Circuit (106)

Federal circuit with the most non-production child pornography receipt convictions:
Eighth Circuit (28)

Repeat Offenders

Top 5 states with the most repeat offender sustaining a federal non-production child pornography conviction:
Missouri (16)
Minnesota (11)
Illinois & California (9 each)
Indiana, Michigan, & Ohio (6 each)
Texas & Utah (5 each)

Note: These are offenders who had any kind of prior sex offense in a state, federal, or foreign court, no matter how long ago it was.

Federal circuit with the most repeat offenders in non-production child pornography cases:
Eighth Circuit (15 out of 63 repeat offenders nationwide)

Federal district with the most repeat offenders in non-production child pornography cases:
Dist. of Minnesota (9)

Federal circuit with the most repeat offenders in possession-only child pornography cases:
Eighth Circuit (22)

First-Time Offenders

Overall, there were 1146 first-time offenders for federal non-production child pornography convictions (out of 1,340 convictions).

Top 5 states with first-time offenders in federal non-production child pornography convictions:
Texas (111)
Florida (90)
Missouri (69)
New York (66)
California (61)

Federal circuit with the most first-time offenders for distribution of child pornography convictions (the harshest offense):
Ninth Circuit (88)

Much more can be found in the USSC`s June 2021 report, found here.

 

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Fear of Sex Offender Recidivism Continues Despite Evidence Saying Otherwise

Way back in 2003, Justice Kennedy said in an opinion on a state sex-offense case that “the risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is frightening and high.” Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003). He backed this statement by saying that reoffense by sex offenders “has been estimated to be as high as 80%.” However, Kennedy`s statement was baseless and the 80% figure he cited actually had no basis in any evidence.

Over the years, experts have shown again and again that the Supreme Court`s 80% recidivism rate for sex offenders has never been proven and that it`s in fact the opposite: the rate of reoffense for sex offenders is one of the lowest, if not the lowest, of all crimes. In fact, the recent report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that sex offenders commit a new sex offense just 4.3% of the time. While any new sex offense is horrible, sex offenders aren`t out running around committing new sex crimes 80% of the time, like the Supreme Court said.

So where did this 80% statistic come from? It was a comment in a 1986 article in Psychology Today, a mass-market magazine for the public and not considered a valid source for empirical evidence by psychology scholars. Digging deeper, it was an article written by a sex-offender counselor, Robert E. Freeman-Longo, who was trying to promote his sex-offender treatment program he was selling to state prisons in Oregon.

While experts and scholars have fully debunked this “frightening and high” myth, many people still believe it today. Courts routinely cite the high court`s “frightening and high” comment to deny any relief to sex offenders. While it may be a good tactic for a lower-court judge to do so in order to avoid being overturned by a higher court (after all, you can`t go wrong by citing the Supreme Court, the most noble court in the land … right?), it`s misleading because sex offenders are being denied the constitutional right to be heard in court in a meaningful way.

Some federal judges have bucked this “frightening and high” trend. In Does v. Snyder, 834 F.3d 696 (6th Cir. 2016), federal court of appeals judge Alice Batchelder criticized the “frightening and high” myth rather bluntly, noting there is “significant doubt case by recent empirical studies on the pronouncement in Smith that the risk of recidivism posed by sex offenders is `frightening and high.`” Others have agreed with Judge Batchelder. See, e.g., Doe v. Rausch, 461 F. Supp. 3d 747 (E.D. Tenn. 2020) (criticizing the Supreme Court`s “frightening and high” statement to find retroactive application of Tennessee`s sex-offender registry violated the Constitution).

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