Involvement with the criminal justice system (CJS)
A main consequence of offending online is involvement with the police and criminal justice system.
First contact with the authorities
Typically, this is likely to be the police knocking on your door.
Seizing of equipment
During this initial visit, the police will search the property (and any other property you reside in) and gather up all electronic devices (e.g. mobile phones, computers, laptops, iPads, cameras, hard-drives, electronics used for work).
- The police will also seize any electronic devices from other people living in that property, including any children’s electronic devices.
- The police will make a note of every device seized and will take them to the police station for further analysis, which may take several months. Any devices found with evidence of illegal activity will not be returned.
Following the police searching your home, you will be taken to the police station. At this point you will either be arrested on suspicion of committing a specific offence (which is what happens more frequently) or you will remain under investigation and be formally arrested at a later date.
- You will be interviewed by the police.
- You will be offered a duty solicitor (or if you already have a solicitor you can ask them to come in). You can also be interviewed without a solicitor if this is your wish.
Following interview, you will be put on bail. You will be given a future date to return to the police station to answer bail (i.e. to find out what happens next).
- It is likely that you will be given bail conditions to stick to. Common conditions include no unsupervised contact with children and no living or sleeping at an address with children. Conditions will vary between people and cases, but you must comply as breaking a bail condition is a criminal offence.
- You will be allocated to a specific investigating officer and you will be given their contact details should you need to get in touch.
- During this time, your electronic devices will be analysed by a forensic team.
- The bail date can be extended by the police force, for example, if there is a delay in analysing your devices.
- It is recommended that you use this time to find a criminal solicitor, preferably with experience of dealing with this type of case, if you decide not to continue using the duty solicitor.
- It is recommended that you use this time to begin to address and stop your offending behaviour, if you haven’t already done so.
On return to the police station to answer bail, the police will state the results of their analysis. They will take one of three courses of action:
- No further action
If the police do not find any evidence, or if they feel that there is not enough evidence to charge you on, no further action will be taken.
- Formal police caution
This can be offered at the discretion of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. For a caution to be given, a court hearing is not necessary and the caution can be offered and accepted at the police station.
Although not a criminal conviction, a caution will still appear on a person’s criminal record and will show up on a standard and enhanced disclosure (see Consequence 6). Acceptance of a caution for a sexual offence also includes two years on the sex offenders register (see Consequence 4).
If you are charged with offences, you will be seen in court. If you are charged with offences regarding sexual images, the police will state what category/categories the images the offences relate to are in:
- Category A: Images involving penetrative sexual activity. Images involving sexual activity with an animal or sadism.
- Category B: Images involving non-penetrative sexual activity.
- Category C: Other images not falling within categories A or B.
Category A sexual images carry heavier sentencing possibilities than category B or C (see further info on sentencing).
Your sentence can lead to one of three outcomes:
If charged, it is likely that you will be seen in a Magistrates’ Court, and then sent to the Crown Court due to the nature of the offences and the Magistrates’ Court’s inability to give you a specific length of sentence. That said, this does not definitively mean you will receive a custodial sentence.
- Community order
This is an order to serve the sentence for the offence in the community, under the supervision of the Probation Service.
It will probably be given with a condition engage with rehabilitation. This could include engaging in offence-related work with the Probation Service, or community service activities.
Community orders tend to be given for at least two years, in order to allow the offender to complete some rehabilitation work within the community during the life of the order (but can be for a maximum of three years).
- Suspended sentence
This also allows the offender to serve a sentence in the community, under the supervision of the Probation Service. The difference with a suspended sentence is that a custodial sentence has been given but the judge is allowing this to be deferred and served in the community, in order to give the offender a chance to prove he is law abiding and will adhere to the conditions set for him.
If the offender fails to comply or commits any further offences, they will be required to serve the length of time in custody that was suspended.
Also, like a community order, a suspended sentence can include conditions that the offender must abide by, such as offence-related work.
For example, if a judge sentences an offender to six months in custody suspended for two years, this means that the judge is saying the offence committed was serious enough to warrant six months in custody, but because of X, Y or Z (possible mitigation), the offender will be allowed to serve this in the community whilst adhering to the prescribed conditions. If the conditions are not adhered to, he will be made to serve the six months in custody.
If the offender commits another offence within that two year suspension period, they will serve not only the sentence passed for the most recent offence, but also the six months custody previously given for the original offence.
- Custodial sentence
The offender will be taken directly from court to the prison where the sentence will bein.
- If an offender has been sentenced to less than four years in custody, providing there are no additional concerns and the offender does not cause difficulty whilst in custody, the offender will be released after serving half of their sentence.
- If the sentence is for four years or more, then the offender will have to serve at least two thirds of the custodial sentence.
Sentencing options and structure
You can find information on possible sentencing outcomes for different offences on the Sentencing Council website.