Under Georgia law, it is illegal to possess images of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Minors are defined as those under eighteen (18) years old, and sexually explicit conduct is defined by the statute, but is vast in its scope. Sexual exploitation charges carry harsh penalties, with a 5-20 years prison sentence, as well as required registration as a sex offender if convicted.
What qualifies as sexual exploitation?
Sexual exploitation charges, as written in Georgia law, simply require one to possess images of a minor (under the age of 18) engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Often, law enforcement officers will use search warrants to authorize broad searches of computers, phones, tablets, storage drives, and any other technology that could be used to store images. Further, search warrants are commonly issued in cases where there is a seemingly unrelated crime that has occurred, as officers will justify trying to further their investigation into that unrelated crime. While search warrants are given a great amount of deference by reviewing judges, they are not fail proof, and can be challenged as being overly broad, or without having probable cause for the officer’s request.
Sexually explicit conduct, as defined in Georgia, has an expansive definition, but includes: (1) sexual intercourse; (2) masturbation; (3) “lewd” display of genitals or pubic area, and other acts. In theory, it is a jury’s role to decide whether conduct is sexually explicit and could lead to a conviction on the charges of sexual exploitation.
Bonds in Sexual Exploitation Cases
In sexual exploitation cases, judges will typically set felony bond amounts, which can be $10,000 or more per charge. Each image could justify a separate warrant, so the total bond amount will usually depend on how many warrants are taken out for the various images retrieved. Judges can also impose reasonable restrictions in exploitation cases like restricting access to phone or internet usage, requiring check-ins at pretrial services or with a court officer, and limiting travel, especially international.
Generally, once a bond is posted, these cases will wait for the district attorney’s office to make charging decisions, including whether or not to indict the case, and what final charges will be in the indictment. Assuming the case is indicted, an arraignment hearing will follow where you enter a plea, generally of not guilty, and begin the process of building a defense.
Sexual Exploitation Charges and the Sex Offender Registry
Under current Georgia law, sexual exploitation is a charge that requires registration as a sex offender. If convicted of a charge of exploitation, you will be required to annually register as a sex offender and must abide by special conditions, including employment and residence restrictions designed to minimize contact with minors. In addition, you may also be required to be supervised under special sex offender conditions of probation, which often have more restrictions that the sex offender registry. Probation restrictions can include curfews, limitations on using technology, search consent, alcohol and drug exclusions, and others.
Generally, you can petition the court to remove you from the registry once you have fully served any sentence and are no longer on probation for sexual offenses.
Defending Sexual Exploitation Charges
Defending cases involving exploitation charges requires a knowledge of the laws surrounding these charges as well as experience in the courtrooms you will be brought into. At Zeliff | Watson, we have both the knowledge and experience to defend these cases with the skill it takes in order to achieve the best result possible. We understand the proactive steps you can take to increase the chances the court will hear your case fairly and with an open ear. We know the challenges to make to indictments, search warrants, discovery issues, and more when it comes to pursuing your best defense. Finally, we have courtroom experience that can only be acquired by spending countless hours in court around Metro Atlanta and north Georgia. Call or fill out our contact form TODAY to learn more about our defense team.