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In Md. even looking at child porn online is a crime

State laws prosecute makers, viewers of offensive material

State laws prosecute makers, viewers of offensive material

February 28, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - If an innocent Internet search brings back questionable images - anything that might be considered child pornography - legal experts recommend contacting local law enforcement officials, or reporting the material to the Internet service provider.

"Looking at it, even if you don't download it, is a crime," said Raquel Guillory of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General.

Investigators can pull up a history of what a user has viewed over the Internet, said Dallas Kincaid, operations manager for Xecu.net, an Internet services provider based in Frederick, Md.

If an image is downloaded, even if it later is deleted, investigators can find those deleted files, Kincaid said.

Maryland law prosecutes the makers and viewers of child pornography under six different statutes. Five of those are felony statutes that deal primarily with the production and distribution of child pornography.

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The sixth, a misdemeanor statute, relates to those who "knowingly possess and intentionally retain" material that shows children younger than 16 as the subjects of sadomasochistic abuse, engaged in sexual conduct or in a state of sexual excitement.

Conviction on a misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail.

The statutes address a public policy issue, that of preventing the abuse of children, Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Michele Ferris Hansen said.

A child actually is being assaulted or abused in the making of the pornography and to eliminate ongoing abuse, authorities have to target the consumer, she said.

Questions of what constitutes a violation of the law arose recently because of two local situations.

Former Maryland State Police Trooper Brian H. Murphy was found guilty in December 2007 in Washington County District Court of possessing five pornographic images of a child younger than 18. He was sentenced earlier this month to a suspended one-year jail term and three years of supervised probation.

Murphy has appealed his case to Circuit Court.

On Jan. 31, investigators searched the Halfway home of former Maryland Del. Robert A. McKee, acting on allegations that child pornography was in the residence.

No charges have been filed against McKee.

A powerful federal law, tougher than state law, provides a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for those convicted of transporting, knowingly receiving or distributing child pornography across state lines. Child pornography can appear in books, magazines, periodicals and videotapes, or be found on the Internet.

In most cases, the use of the Internet to obtain or posses child porn violates federal law, authorities said.

The federal law is an effort to eradicate child pornography, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson said during a telephone interview.

Exploitation happens because there's an audience for the material, she said.

Experts also believe that collecting child pornography can be a starter crime that in some cases can lead to pedophilia, Wilkinson said.

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