Involvement with the Criminal Justice System (CJS)
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 individuals living in that property, including any childrens’ electronic devices.
- The police will make a note of every device seized and will take them to the police station for further analysis. This process of analysis can take several months. Any devices found with illegal material on, 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 or you will remain ‘under investigation’ and be formally arrested at a later date (with the former being most common).
- 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 adhere to. Common conditions for suspected internet offenders include no unsupervised contact with children and no living or sleeping at an address with children. Conditions will vary between individuals; however you MUST comply, as breaking a bail condition is a criminal offence.
- You will be allocated to a specific officer; this person will be your ‘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.
- In addition, it is recommended that you use this time to begin to address your offending behaviour, if you haven’t done so prior to your arrest.
On return to the police station to answer bail, the police will state the results of their analysis. They will take 1 of 3 courses of action:
1. 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.
2. 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 2 years on the Sex Offenders Register (see Consequence 4).
3. Charged: If you are charged with offences relating to the access of sexual images of children, you will be seen in court. When you are charged, 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 1 of 3 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.
1. 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 to attend a community based treatment programme, such as the Internet Sex Offender Treatment Programme (I-SOTP) or the community Sex Offender Treatment Programme (community SOTP).
- Community orders tend to be given for at least 2 years, in order to allow the offender to complete a rehabilitation programme within the community during the life of the order (but can be for a maximum of 3 years).
2. 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, he 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, usually attendance on a rehabilitation programme with regard to sexual offences.
- For example, if a judge sentences an offender to 6 months in custody suspended for 2 years, this means that the judge is saying the offence committed was serious enough to warrant 6 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 6 months in custody.
- If the offender commits another offence within that 2 year suspension period, he will serve not only the sentence passed for the most recent offence, but also the 6 months custody previously given for the original offence.
3. Custodial Sentence: The offender will be taken directly from court to the prison where the sentence will commence.
- If an offender has been sentenced to less than 4 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 4 years or more, then the offender will have to serve at least two thirds of the custodial sentence.
Here is some further information about sentencing options. The table below details possible sentencing outcomes according to the separate offences of downloading, distributing and the production of sexual images of children:
|Category A||Starting point – 1 year’s custody||Starting point – 3 years’ custody||Starting point – 6 years’ custody|
|Category range – 26 weeks’ to 3 years’ custody||Category range – 2 to 5 years’ custody||Category range – 4 to 9 years’ custody|
|Category B||Starting point – 26 weeks’ custody||Starting point – 1 year’s custody||Starting point – 2 years’ custody|
|Category range – High level community order to 18 months’ custody||Category range – 26 weeks’ to 2 years’ custody||Category range – 1 to 4 years’ custody|
|Category C||Starting point – High level community order||Starting point – 13 weeks’ custody||Starting point – 18 months’ custody|
|Category range – Medium level community order to 26 weeks’ custody||Category range – High level community order to 26 weeks’ custody||Category range – 1 to 3 years’ custody|
Starting point: this is the option the Judge will start with when considering your sentence
Category range: this is the minimum or maximum that the Judge can give you when considering your sentence, after taking into account aggravating and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors: something that will go against you in court and will increase your sentence
Mitigating factors: something that will help your case in court and will decrease your sentence
|Aggravating Factors||Mitigating factors|
|Previous conviction (the nature and the time elapsed)||No previous convictions|
|Offence committed whilst on bail or licence.||Remorse|
|Age/vulnerability of child in images||Age or lack of maturity when it affects the responsibility of the offender|
|Pain or distress suffered by child||Mental disorder or LD, particularly when linked to commission of the offence|
|Period over which images were possessed etc.||Demonstration of steps taken to address offending behaviour|
|High volume of images||Previous good character and/or exemplary conduct*|
|Deliberate or systematic searching images of young children, category A or familial sexual abuse||*the more serious the less weight this is given. If good character used to facilitate offence, may be aggravating|