Oroville Man Accused of Receiving Child Porn in Federal Sting Operation (18 United States Code 2251)

A lengthy investigation involving a joint effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Butte County Sheriff’s Office recently resulted in the arrest of a 63-year-old man from Oroville (name withheld to protect the accused) on charges of receiving child pornography.  There were 4 different indictments in all for alleged crimes that spanned a period of about 2 years.  The Oroville man supposedly held conversations with sexual content with a “10-year-old boy” who was really an adult pretending to be a minor in order to lure potential sexual predators into internet chat conversations with them.

For men and women like this Oroville man, who has yet to be proven guilty, simply being charged with a violation of 18 United States Code 2251 can be a devastating event, even when they are proven innocent.  Federal penalties include up to 30 years in prison and hefty fines.  However, some individuals within the legal profession and in the justice system question whether or not using an adult posing as a minor is a fair and balanced investigative technique.  While the content of internet chat rooms in conversations with minors is protected, chats with other adults do not necessarily fit into the same category, legally speaking.

If, for example, an adult person pretends to be a minor child on the internet and attempts to trick or lure another adult into expressing their desire for sexual images of children, the person being conned must eventually receive or send pornographic images in order to be charged.  In the case above, it took investigators 2 years to tempt one person into receiving images.  This brings up another question, should it be legal for investigators to send child pornography simply in order to catch someone else who might eventually be convinced to receive it?  Does this perpetuate the sharing of sexually explicit images of children or does it, as the law is meant to do, prevent persons from receiving or sharing them?  In other words, if the Oroville man did not have access to these images through a set-up in the first place, would he ever have had access to them at all?