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What Are the Sentencing Guidelines for Indecent Images?

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Facing a conviction for producing, possessing or distributing indecent images or extreme pornography can be incredibly distressing, with the potential sentences being severe for the most serious offences.

However, given that there are a range of difference types of offence that fall under the umbrella of ‘indecent images’, the relevant sentencing guidelines for indecent images are extremely broad and will depend on a number of different factors.

Here, we discuss what indecent images sentencing guidelines look like, including the maximum and minimum sentences you can face, what will determine the severity of the potential penalty.

What are indecent images?

It is an offence to take, to permit to be taken, to make, to possess, show, or to distribute or publish an image of a child posed or pictured indecently, for example in a sexual way. This can also include images of adults involved in an indecent act where a child is present but not themselves portrayed indecently. Images can include actual photographs or video footage, drawings or tracings, or images created digitally.

There is no statutory definition of ‘indecent.’ However, it has been held that in the case of a trial before a jury, it is for the jury to decide what is ‘indecent’ by reference as to whether it is something that offends against recognized standards of propriety. The same test would apply if the matter was being dealt with at the magistrates court.

How are indecent images categorised?

As per indecent images sentencing guidelines, there are three levels of seriousness for indecent images. These are:

  • Class A indecent images
  • Class B indecent images
  • Class C indecent images

We work with leading forensic digital experts who can independently go over the categorisation of images and this can sometimes make a difference in the penalty received.

A qualified expert is independent and does not work for the police and will advise independently on whether the images have been correctly assessed in accordance with the law. They can also look at how the images where obtained and how long you had them and what circumstances you obtained them in.

What is the definition of a Class A indecent image?

Class A indecent images form the most serious category. These relate to images which involve penetrative sexual activity and sexual activity with an animal or sadism. In almost every instance, being convicted of an offence related to Class A indecent images is likely to lead to a prison sentence.

What is the definition of a Class B indecent image?

Class B indecent images relate to non-penetrative sexual activity, which may include actions such as masturbation, usually without the presence of an adult. This images are classified as mid-range in sensitivity. Class B indecent images are likely to result in either a prison sentence, or a community service order.

What is the definition of a Class C indecent image?

Class C indecent images depict erotic or sexual posing. These are graded the least severely by law. Class C indecent images are likely to result in a community order but can be extended to a prison sentence.

What are the range of sentences you can face for indecent images?

When a person is convicted of an offence involving the possession of indecent images, the court are required to carefully regard the nature and seriousness of the images before making a decision on the appropriate sentence. Given that there are a range of different offences relating various categories of indecent images, the potential penalties vary significantly.

Possession of indecent images sentencing guidelines are as follows:

  • Where there are images of penetrative sexual activity or images involving sexual activity with an animal or sadism, the starting point is 1 years custody with a range of 26 weeks custody – 3 years custody.
  • Possession of images showing non penetrative sexual activity would attract a sentence with a starting point of 26 weeks custody and a range of a high level community order to 18 months custody.
  • Where the offence is possession and there are no images of sexual activity, the guidelines suggest a starting point of a high level community order with a range of a medium level community order to 26 weeks custody.

For cases of production, the potential penalties are:

  • Where it is shown that the defendant engaged in production of indecent images showing penetrative sexual activity or created images showing sexual activity with an animal or sadism, the starting point is 6 years custody with a range of 4 – 9 years custody.
  • Where the images show non penetrative sexual activity the starting point is 2 years custody with a range of 1 – 4 years custody.
  • In any other case the starting point is 18 months custody with a range of 1 – 3 years custody.

For cases of distribution, the potential penalties include:

  • For distribution of images showing penetrative sexual activity or sexual activity with an animal or sadism, the starting point is 3 years custody with a range of between 2 – 5 years custody.
  • Where the image shows non penetrative sexual activity the starting point is 1 years custody with a range of 26 weeks – 2 years custody.
  • In any other case the starting point is 13 weeks custody with a range of a high level community order – 26 weeks custody.

In addition to this, indecent images sentencing guidelines dictate that anyone convicted of possession, distribution or production of indecent images will face a range of other punishments.

Depending on the office, there is a possibility that an offender will be required to register under the Sexual Offender’s Register, as well as potentially being banned from working with children.

Someone convicted of an indecent images offence may also be dealt with a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO). This is a court order which can be requested by the police or court when there is a specific concern about an individual. The order prevents that person from engaging in a specific activity. An example of a relevant SHPO would be to prevent someone from having access to the internet without installed computer monitoring software.

What is the maximum sentence for indecent images?

As per Sentencing Council, the maximum sentence for indecent images centres around the production of Class A indecent images. For this offence, you could face a maximum penalty of nine years imprisonment, in addition to being registered under the Sexual Offender’s Register.

What is the minimum sentence for indecent images?

As per Sentencing Council, the minimum sentence for indecent images centres around the possession of Class C indecent images. For this offence, you could face a penalty of a medium level community order.

What defences are available for indecent image offences?

Given that the potential penalties for indecent images can be so strict, it stands to reason that there are a range of potential defences which can be used, either to prevent someone from being convicted, or to reduce the penalty they are facing.

Firstly, it may be a defence for someone facing an indecent image offence if it can be proven that they had a legitimate reason for distributing or possessing the images.

Defences could also be raised if it can be shown that the person had not seen the photographs, or did not know (or have cause to suspect) that they could be classified as indecent.

There have been previous cases where someone has out forward the defence that they had indecent images in their possession because they were conducting ‘research’. However, what constitutes ‘research’ is subjective and is a question of fact for the jury or magistrates in each case. As such, courts may bring in a measure of scepticism when such a defence is put forward.

A statutory defence that can be put forward for the production of indecent images is where a person is able to prove that the photograph was of a child aged 16 or over and, at the time of the offence, the defendant and the child depicted were married or civil partners and lived together as partners. This only applies if the photograph showed the child alone or with the defendant.

A further defence may apply if a defendant accused of possessing indecent images was unaware that said images were saved to their device. This may have occurred as a result of malware or a virus.

Are there any aggravating or mitigating factors for indecent images?

Sentencing guidelines outline that the severity of a sentence may depend on the presence of any aggravating or mitigating factors.

There are a range of potential aggravating factors that could increase the severity of a punishment, including:

  • Previous convictions
  • The offence took place while on bail
  • The age and vulnerability of the child depicted
  • Visible physical pain and suffering
  • Distress caused to the child
  • The period the images were possessed, made or distributed
  • The volume of images possessed, made or distributed
  • Whether someone intended to make commercial gain
  • Whether someone intended for widespread distribution, even without profit

On the other hand, there are also a number of mitigating factors that would potentially help to reduce the penalty someone is facing if they are set to be convicted.

These could include:

  • No prior convictions
  • A defendant shows clear remorse for their actions
  • A defendant previously showed good character or exemplary conduct
  • Age and/or a lack of maturity
  • Mental disorders or learning disabilities
  • Steps taken to address offending such as self-referral to psychologists/counselling
  • Dealing with porn addiction through professional help
  • Dealing with drink or drug issues
  • Proving personal mitigation factors, loss, bereavement, poor health, trauma suffered
  • Medical reports
  • Personal consequences you sometimes suffer because of the offence, loss of job, marriage and other factors

Should I speak to a solicitor if I’m accused of an indecent image offence?

In every scenario, the answer to this question is always yes. As we have outlined, sentencing guidelines for indecent images show that the penalties can be incredibly harsh, which means that the support and advice of an expert solicitor is essential. If you have been arrested and are interviewed by the police, it is absolutely imperative that you know your legal rights and what may harm your defence,

While some people assume that speaking to a solicitor will signify guilt, this is not at all accurate. No matter what your circumstances may be, and the exact offence you are being charged with, it is essential that you enlist specialist representation at the earliest opportunity.

At JD Spicer Zeb, our indecent images solicitors have substantial experience and expertise with these matters and are on hand to lend their support and advice. Providing legal representation and close personal support, we will take every possible step to ensure that your rights are protected and that you achieve the best possible outcome.

In addition to guiding you through the general process, we will make sure that the alleged indecent images are correctly and accurately categorised, medical reports (including phycological evaluations) are collated and that the potential impact on you and your family is well accounted for.

We work with a leading digital forensics provider Cyfor who can offer fast face to face expert advice on the initial forensic aspect of the police investigation. This can cost from around £500 plus VAT. The expert can advise in depth on lines of forensics the police will deploy and the likely outcome of interrogation of various platforms or devices.

Where a conviction is unavoidable, we will also work to ensure that any sentence is proportionate, including the application of a SHPO.

Contact our indecent images defence lawyers today

For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice, immediate representation or to speak to us confidentially about allegations of producing, possessing or distributing indecent images of children or extreme pornography, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated indecent images defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

24/7 legal representation for indecent images offence allegations

Please get in touch for a free initial consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice on dealing with allegations relating to indecent images of children or extreme pornography.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number 07836 577 556.

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