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Is it Against the Law to Look at Child Pornography?

Blank Law, PC Team

Is it Against the Law to Look at Child Pornography?

Child pornography is a form of sexual exploitation that targets children.

In modern times, child pornography presents itself in many forms, including over the internet, presenting law enforcement authorities with new challenges in combating child pornography cases.

Usually, child pornography charges arise from producing, possessing, or distributing child sexually explicit content. That means anyone accused of looking at child sexually abusive content will also face child pornography charges.

Censored content on monitor

If you are facing child pornography charges, it will help to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. A good lawyer, particularly one from a law firm that’s solely focused on sex crimes, can help you reduce or avoid the consequences of a conviction, including long-term prison sentences, costly fines, and being required to register as a sex offender.

Is it Against the Law to Look at Child Pornography?

Yes. It’s illegal to look at child pornography under Michigan laws.

To better understand why looking at child pornography is illegal, you need to first understand Michigan child pornography and child sexual exploitation laws.

Understanding Child Pornography Laws in Michigan

Under Michigan laws, child pornography or child sexually abusive material is defined as any depiction, film, picture, slide, electronic visual image, video, computer-generated image or video, or sound recording of a minor (a person under the age of 18) engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

Michigan state child pornography laws classify the offense into three categories, production, distribution, and possession of child pornography.

If you are arrested or under investigation for looking at child porn, the most probable charge you could face in Michigan is Possession of Child Pornography.

Possession of Child Pornography Michigan Law

Under MCL 750.145c, it’s illegal to knowingly possess, seek and access child pornography if the person knows or is reasonably expected to know that the person depicted in the child pornographic material is a child, and the person has not taken reasonable precaution to establish the age of the child.

Upon a conviction for violating this section of the law, the accused will be guilty of a felony punishable by a maximum of four years in prison, a fine not exceeding $10,000.00, or both.

Pornography sign

With that said, penalties are even stiffer if the material in question involves a pre-pubescent child, bestiality or sadomasochistic abuse, a video, or over 100 child pornography images. In such cases, a sex offender will be guilty of a felony punishable by not more than 10 years in prison, a fine not exceeding $10,000.00, or both.

As defined in this section of the law, looking at child pornography can translate to possession if the material in question is in print or electronic format stored in an electronic device, such as a smartphone or computer.

If the material in question is viewed over the internet, the act qualifies as accessing, which is equally illegal in the eyes of the law.

Circumstances Under Which a Person may be Charged with Looking at Child Pornography in Michigan


Sexting refers to sending sexually explicit images or videos over text or other messaging platforms like WhatsApp or email.

Although sexting is not illegal in Michigan, if the sexually explicit content messaged during sexting includes minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct, the offender will be charged with child pornography upon arrest.

*Please Note: If you have consensual sexual relations with someone 16 years old or older, you will not be charged with a criminal sexual conduct charge. However, if you send pictures or videos of you and/or your partner, who is 16, 17 or 18 years old, you can be charged with possessing and/or distributing child pornography.

Some of the possible child pornography charges that may result from sexting include:

Production of Child Pornography

Under Michigan criminal law, it’s illegal for any person to produce or cause a minor to produce child pornography.

This means a person who asks a another person under the age of 18 to take nude images of themselves can be charged with producing child pornography in Michigan, a felony offense carrying a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, a fine not exceeding $100,000.00, or both.


Possession of Child Pornography

Receiving child pornography images through sexting will qualify as possessing child pornography.

If investigating agencies find the images on your devices, they will assume that you looked at it, unless you can prove otherwise.

If you accidentally stumble upon child pornography via sexting, you may want to talk to a lawyer for legal advice on the appropriate action to take.

Distribution of Child Pornography

A person who sends a child sexually abusive material to another via sexting can be charged with possessing child porn/looking at child pornography, alongside the distribution of child pornography charges. This applies even if the person depicted in the material is the source of the material.

For example, assuming a teenage girl takes nudes of herself to send to her boyfriend. Upon arrest, the teenage girl could face charges for producing child pornography alongside possession and distribution of child sexually material. If the boyfriend decides to share the images with his friends, he could also face charges for distribution of child sexually abusive material, alongside others.

Internet Child Pornography

In modern times, most cases of child sexual exploitation happen online.

Many people have a common misconception that viewing child pornography on the internet is not illegal and doesn’t amount to a child pornography offense. However, the Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled that viewing child pornography on the internet amounts to possession.

Porn text and sex content concept on computer screen. Closeup screenshot, screen pixels and cursor pointer

You may be wondering what evidence would be used to charge you with child pornography for looking at it over the internet. After all, you do not possess physical evidence of illegal activity.

Turns out, viewing child pornography on the internet leaves a digital trail that investigating officers can use to track your online activity. Usually, when a person is arrested or under investigation for other internet sex crimes, investigating agencies will conduct a forensic search of your devices to establish intent to possess and view child pornography.

A child pornography offense involving the internet often involve federal law enforcement agencies and are prosecuted in federal courts. This is because internet sex crimes usually go beyond local law enforcement’s jurisdiction.

If you are under investigation for viewing child pornography on the internet, you need to work with a law firm that has a lawyer who understands Michigan child pornography offenses and federal criminal laws.

Federal Laws on Looking at Child Pornography

If child sexual exploitation offenses cross state or international borders, the resulting charges will be prosecuted in a federal court.

Federal laws that address looking at child pornography are largely similar to state laws. However, the penalties may vary, with federal offenses carrying much harsher penalties.

FBI agent working on his computer in office

The most applicable federal law dealing with looking at child pornography is 18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(4) Child Pornography Possession. Anyone convicted for violating this section of the law faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000.00, and a lifetime of electronic monitoring.

If aggravating factors, such as the victim being less than 12 years old, exist, the offender may face up to 20 years in federal prison, a fine not exceeding $250,000.00, and a lifetime of monitoring after release.

Notably, in Michigan, sexually explicit photos that do not portray a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct are not considered child pornography.

Possible Defenses for Looking at Child Pornography

Looking at child pornography is illegal and a serious crime at both state and federal levels, with far-reaching consequences.

If you face these, or related charges, it’s critical to work with a sex crimes attorney that is licensed to represent clients in federal courts to improve your chances of your charges being dropped or reduced to less severe charges.

Some of the defense strategies your defense attorney may use include:

You Did Not Look at Child Porn

If you are found in possession of images depicting children engaging in sexually explicit conduct, the investigating officer will assume that you looked at the child depicted in the sexually abusive material, but that may not always be true.

For example, if the evidence linking you to the illegal material was found in a device that could have been accessed by some other people, it’s possible to use “not viewing” child porn as a defense strategy. This may also apply to persons with limited computer skills that would make it impossible for them to know if the content downloaded amounted to child porn.


The internet is full of all types of criminals, and it’s not uncommon for persons to click on links that lead to illegal child porn sites that would result in accidental downloading or viewing of child porn.

Computer Monitor screen, concept of spam email

If you accidentally, or through spam links, download or look at child pornography, it would be a good idea to contact a lawyer for legal advice on the best cause of action.

If the circumstance surrounding your child porn charge involves clicking on spammy links, your defense team can use spamming as a defense strategy.

Not Child Porn

Pornography in itself is perfectly legal. It only becomes illegal if the persons depicted appear to be minors.

Under some circumstances, it would be practically impossible to tell a person’s age from an image. In this case, your lawyer could use “not child porn” as a defense.

For a person to be convicted with child pornography charges, the prosecution must prove that the person depicted reasonably appears to be minor.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Police are Investigating Me for Looking at Child Porn, What Should I Do?

If contacted by law enforcement for suspicions of child porn, it’s essential to call a lawyer immediately for legal advice.

Most people assume that asking to talk to a lawyer amounts to an admission of guilt. This belief is based on a lack of information.

Speaking to a lawyer focused on sex crimes helps ensure that your rights are upheld as the police do their investigation, and helps ensure that you do not make a mistake that could incriminate you in the investigation process.

The same applies if you are arrested for child porn or other criminal sexual conduct offenses.

Rule number one after an arrest is not talking to the police unless you have a lawyer, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Anything you say after an arrest can be used against you in a court of law. Having a lawyer by your side ensures that you do not say something that could aggravate the already bad situation.

I Googled Child Porn and My Friends Tell Me I am in Trouble, What Should I Do?

Googling or typing “child porn” in the search bar is not illegal. If that is all you have done, there is no need to worry, as long as your search doesn’t indicate intent to access child porn.

Most search engines, such as Google, Firefox, or Microsoft Explorer, do not allow access to illegal pornographic sites. Typing child porn on the search bar can only provide results for child pornography lawyers or child porn-related news, which is not illegal.

With that said, this does not eliminate the possibility of landing on a child porn site through search engines. If you do, it will help if you report the matter to keep the internet space safe. However, some dark web browsers may allow for such results, which could land you in trouble.

Someone Sent Me Unsolicited Child Pornography, What Should I Do?

If someone sends you unsolicited child porn, it would be best to delete it immediately the moment you realize what it is.

If the person keeps doing it, it would be best to inform the police to avoid being implicated in illegal activity.

Let Criminal Defense Attorney Nicole Blank Becker Help You with Your Case

A sex crime charge can be very devastating on the accused in light of the possible outcomes.

When faced with sex-related criminal charges, you want to be sure that you have the best lawyer by your side.

If you are a resident of Michigan, or any state within the United States, Nicole Blank Becker of the Blank Law, PC law firm is your go-to lawyer for all sex crimes.

Nicole is a criminal defense attorney

Nicole is a criminal defense attorney with over two decades of experience in Michigan state law. She also has practiced in federal court.

Nicole is solely focused on sex crimes. This means that in matters that deal with sex crimes, not many lawyers in this region match her insight.

Nicole has seen it all in her practice and doesn’t pass judgment based on your charges. She understands that innocent people can sometimes find themselves in deep trouble, so she works to protect her clients’ rights, freedom, and future.

Your future largely depends on the outcome of your charges, so don’t let an unskilled lawyer handle your case.

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To have Nicole work side-by-side with you on your case, contact the Blank Law, PC law firm today at (248) 515-6583 or contact us online to book a first free consultation.

In your free consultation session, Nicole Blank Becker will help you look at all aspects of your case and offer you the best possible legal advice based on her years of experience.

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