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Sentencing for distribution of indecent images

What is the sentence for distribution of indecent images in 2024?

Along with the offence of distributing indecent images, it’s possible to be charged with inciting the distribution of indecent images. An example of this is when somebody responds to an advertisement that is offering to supply indecent images.

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There are three main categories of types of indecent images. However, no matter which category images are deemed to be, being involved with images of children that are indecent or sexual can lead to imprisonment. Involvement may be capturing the images, showing them, distributing them or publishing them.

Possessing or distributing indecent images is a sexual offence. The punishment can be harsh for those found guilty and convicted.

To help you to understand what the outcome might be as a result of being convicted of the distribution of indecent images offence, we’ve detailed the sentencing guidelines.  Please note that a competent and experienced solicitor may be able to get a prison sentence reduced or even avoid it entirely.

It’s important to note that there are three levels of seriousness for indecent images, which are:

Category A – images depicting penetrative sexual activity, sexual activity with an animal or sadism.

Category B – images depicting non-penetrative sexual activity.

Category C – indecent images outside of categories A or B.

It’s not surprising that these types of cases can cause the accused sleepless nights, anxiety and horror.

A case of this nature makes it crucial to engage with a competent sexual offences solicitor as early as possible in the allegations. It’s hard enough to be investigated or charged with this offence and manage the damage to your reputation without worrying about what prison sentence you may be given.

Distribution of indecent images

The legal term of the offence of distribution of legal images is not defined by the Protection of Children Act 1978, nor the Criminal Justice Act 1988 nor the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The definition has been developed through previous case law and it is previous cases that are referred to when defining the parameters of the offence.

In 2018, the case of R v Okoro (No. 3) clarified and affirmed the previous case law with regards to the issue of possession. The trial used the following test to determine possession:

  • The suspect must have custody or control of the images i.e. they are able to access or retrieve the images
  • The suspect is aware that they possessed an image or collection of images on their device. It’s not necessary to be aware of the content of the images, just that they know they have them.
  • Read more information about the offence of Distributing indecent images

What is the average sentence for distribution of indecent images offences?

The least serious offence of distribution of indecent images is those that relate to the possession of category C images. In many cases, these can lead to being handed a community order by the court. This may be in the form of performing unpaid work or being required to attend prescribed probation courses. However, in severe cases, it may lead to being given a prison sentence of 6 months.

Possession of category A image is likely to result in being given a prison sentence, and sentences typically range between 6 months and 36 months.

Possession of category B images is likely to result in being a sentence between 6 months of community service to 18 months imprisonment.

 Possession of category C images is likely to result in being given a community order but could extend to 6 months imprisonment.

Depending on what you are convicted of, your name may be added to the Sexual Offenders Register. Prison sentences can range from 3 months up to 10 years.

If you engage a sexual offences solicitor who has deep experience and knowledge of this area of the law, they will advise you of what would typically be a sentence for whatever crime there is a possibility of you being convicted of.

How does a court decide on the seriousness of the distribution of indecent images offence for sentencing purposes?

The information that judges are given with regards to sentencing are only guidelines, and each case will be looked at individually. One of the factors judges consider in every case of this nature is the defendant’s level of genuine remorse.

The following factors are considered when the court decides which sentence to give. They will look at:

  • Your previous conviction
  • The age and level of vulnerability of the depicted child
  • Whether the child has suffered any discernible pain or distress
  • The period over which the images were possessed
  • How many images were possessed?
  • Where the images were placed and whether there is the potential for a high volume of viewers
  • Whether the image collection included any moving images
  • Were there attempts made by the suspect to dispose of or conceal the images?
  • Was trust abused?
  • Is the child known to the offender?
  • Is the suspect actively involved in a network or process that pays for the creation or sharing of indecent images?
  • Is there commercial motivation behind the exploitation?
  • Has there been deliberate or systematic searching for images of young children, familial abuse or category A images?
  • Is there a large number of children involved?
  • Was the child in an image drugged or intoxicated?

What are some of the mitigating factors that might reduce the distribution of indecent images sentence?

Certain aspects of a case are known as the mitigating aspects which can influence the sentence that a judge gives. In distribution of indecent images cases, they may include:

  • Whether the defendant is disabled or mentally ill
  • The age of the defendant, i.e. if they are particularly young their age may affect their level of responsibility
  • If there are previous, relevant or recent convictions
  • Suspect shows a considerable level of genuine remorse
  • A previous good character with exemplary conduct
  • If there is a learning disability or mental disorder linked to this offence
  • There have been demonstrative steps made to address this behaviour

Is it possible to reduce a sentence for distribution of indecent images with a guilty plea?

In recent years, several changes have been made to the sentencing system in the UK to save the court time and cost and to protect witnesses from the stress of needlessly going through a trial. For offenders aged 18 and over, pleading guilty early on in a case can reduce a sentence by as much as one third (maximum). The later the plea is entered, the smaller the reduction.

‘Early on’ refers to ‘the first stage of the proceedings’ and means anytime up to and including the first hearing at the Magistrates Court or Crown Court for indictable offences.

If a plea is entered 14 days after the first hearing, for example, the maximum level of reduction is just 20% or one-fifth of the sentence. For indictable offences, the limit for a guilty plea to be made is within 28 days after the prosecutor has stated compliance with section 3 of CPIA 1996 and serving disclosure; although the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Judge who has the discretion to apply whatever credit is deemed appropriate.

After these times there is a sliding scale of credit applied. This goes down to one-tenth on the first day of the trial and to zero if entered during the trial. In theory, the ten per cent could be given if the plea is issued after the opening speeches on the first day, but prior to any witness evidence being heard.

If the accused does not want to plead guilty, then it’s important for the solicitor to regularly inform the court throughout the trial of the reasons why the client’s plea is not guilty.

What are some of the other consequences of the distribution of indecent images offence?

Ancillary Orders

A court can also make ancillary orders on a defendant if they are found guilty and convicted of an offence. These are extra elements that can be added to a sentence and include additional restrictions or requirements that affect a dependent’s finances, property or activity.

The range of ancillary orders for distribution of indecent image convictions include the following:

Deprivation and Forfeiture

Prosecutors typically request that indecent images of children are forfeited, even if the case is dropped. The police can legally forfeit data without needing to look at every file in question on a hard drive if they have reasonable grounds to believe that such images are contained.

Public Interest and Out of Court Disposals

Usually, a prosecution will take place unless there are public interest factors that outweigh those in favour.

In such cases, the police may administer a caution in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service. Each case is decided upon on its individual facts and circumstances.

In some cases, a conditional caution may be given, although it’s less likely. The starting point on sentencing guidelines is a high-level community order, whereas the starting point on a conditional caution is at a medium level or below.

The role of the prosecutors is to consider whether it’s in the public interest to prosecute or use an out of court disposal when those involved are youth offenders. This situation is likely when a child shares images of themselves, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

Engaging a sexual offences solicitor who has deep experience and knowledge of this area of the law, means you will have access to information on the typical sentencing for the offence with which you may have been charged.

In addition, the court may demand payment of the following if the accused is convicted:

Payment of costs applied for by the prosecutors

Although the police meet some of the costs involved in the prosecution, the costs of investigation are typically sought from the convicted. These may include the costs of:

  • The work undertaken in obtaining enough evidence for prosecution either at the initial stage or later at the request of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)
  • Seeking medical or expert evidence as part of the investigation, (where a witness is required to attend Court, the cost of the attendance falls on the CPS).
  • Re-interviewing witnesses
  • The entire costs of the prosecutor, including fees for the use of external Barristers used by the CPS, can be recovered from the defendant, subject to means. At the end of the case, the prosecutor under The Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 will request the Judge to order a sum to be paid for the costs incurred by the prosecutor in bringing the prosecution.

Victims surcharges

The term victims’ surcharges can be explained as paying compensation to a fund for victims and can range between £20 to £170 depending on what sentence you were given at conviction.

How sentences can be added to national information databases

There are several national databases that hold information about individuals and any allegations made about them, their criminal and court records. These include the DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) which was previously known as the CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) and the Police National Computer (PNC).  Depending on what happened, whether the accused is convicted and what sentence was issued, the accused may be added to one or all these databases. Their purpose is to provide information to potential employers and to regulate the ability to take part in certain activities.

If your case progresses to court and you are convicted of distribution of indecent images, your conviction will be noted on your CRB / police record. The period of the endorsement will depend on the nature and length of your sentence.

Below are details on how long you will be listed as holding a criminal record if convicted. This is something very serious to consider when it comes to future employment. The term ‘spent’ refers to when your name can be removed from the databases.

In cases of this nature, sentencing can be influenced by the lawyer. The court can be convinced by using arguments such as there will be damage to a business, loss of job or loss of revenue to an employer for the absence of the employee. If there is a spouse disability or dependency, then the lawyer should put this forward to influence the outcome more positively. It’s important to stress the fact that the accused can be rehabilitated and attend a sex offender treatment programme as an alternative to a short or moderate-term custodial sentence.

Below are notification periods for the convicted to be included in the Violent and Sex Offender Register (ViSOR).

Rehabilitation Period
(the time it takes for the sentence to become ‘spent’)
Sentence Adult (aged 18+) at time of conviction Young person (aged under 18) at time of conviction
Prison sentences of more than 4 years Sentence is never spent Sentence is never spent
Prison sentences of more than 2.5 years (30 months) but less than 4 years Sentence length 7 years Sentence length 3.5 years
Prison sentences of more than 6 months but less than 2.5 years (30 months) Sentence length +4 years Sentence length +2 years
Prison sentences of less than 6 months Sentence length + 2 years Sentence length +18 months
Conditional Discharge Length of order Length of order
Absolute Discharge None None
Conditional Caution 3 months 3 months
Simple Caution / Youth Caution None – immediately ‘spent’ None – immediately ‘spent’
Other Including Compensation Order, Supervision Order, Bind Over, Hospital Order Length of the order / once compensation is paid Length of the order / once compensation is paid

How Can Stuart Miller Solicitors Help?

If you or somebody close to you has been charged or arrested in connection to a distributing indecent images case, there’s no doubt that you will probably be feeling very stressed, confused, worried and concerned about what’s going to happen.

In some cases, the charge is not based on fact but purely on allegations. However, whatever your circumstances it can be very stressful as you wonder who will find out and how this will affect your day to day life. You will be concerned about how friends, family and colleagues will think of you.

What happens in a Distributing Indecent Images Investigation?

When a distributing indecent images investigation takes place, it can be a very worrying time. You may worry about your reputation, your job, that you won’t be able to cover your bills or have enough food for your family to eat. Everything feels very unstable and uncertain.

In every case of a distributing indecent images offence, the circumstances are different. However, it’s vital that you seek legal advice to support you and guide you. You need to engage experienced lawyers who can provide you with the expertise and guidance to handle the investigation process. The process can be complicated and lengthy. It’s crucial that you engage legal professionals who have experience in defending in sexual offence cases and whom you can speak to in the strictest confidence.

You’ll typically discover that you’re being investigated for the distribution of indecent images offences when you get a knock on the door from the police. The police may invite you to the police station for an interview. You have a right to consult a lawyer and the right to attend the interview with someone else.

What if I have been falsely accused of the distribution of indecent images?  

Please also note that in many cases, people are wrongly accused of the act of distributing indecent images. If you feel this is you, there are many reasons why you may have had false claims made about you. In some cases, it’s malicious and in others, it could be somebody who is seeking a financial payment.  You may even have lent your computer to somebody and they downloaded, produced or distributed the indecent images using your equipment.

Being either investigated or prosecuted in relation to a distribution of indecent images case is frightening. It’s vital that you are represented by a specialist legal team. At Stuart Miller Solicitors, we have a competent and experienced team of solicitors and legal support specialising in indecent image cases.  We also boast an extensive understanding of the Criminal Justice Act and have experience representing defendants in this complex area of law.

Of course, being accused of this type of offence can put your reputation in question in addition to being very humiliating. You’re likely to have a lot of questions that you need us to answer for you. Being discreet and sensitive to the situation is essential. We will help you throughout the process and guide you each step of the journey.

We believe the foundation of excellent representation is ensuring you understand the offence that you face and knowing what to expect throughout each step of your case.

Arrest & Interview

At the outset of an investigation of this nature, it is commonplace for the police to seize all of your electronic devices for analysis. We understand you will feel a sense of embarrassment with such levels of intrusion into your privacy. They may be seized for weeks, months and sometimes even longer.

In this day and age where people rely heavily upon technology, we understand you may feel at a loss without them. It is essential you contact our team of indecent image solicitors the moment you become aware an investigation is imminent or underway. Not only can our team prepare you for what can be a lengthy and gruelling process, once the investigation is underway, we can put pressure on the police to conclude their investigation as quickly as possible. Our indecent image solicitors provide representation throughout police interviews and at all stages of the Court process.

If you believe someone else has used your device, our expert team are able to check which websites were running simultaneously at the time of the download to see if the user can be identified.

Our indecent images solicitors will fully support you and ensure all possibilities are explored when defending your case. We will never accept the prosecution’s case at face value. We will seek out weaknesses in their case, we will challenge illegally obtained evidence and try to kick out inadmissible evidence. If any of the Charges cannot be proved by law, we will apply for those charges to be dismissed.

In the event that you accept the offence and are looking at the potential consequences or sentences imposed for possession of indecent images cases, our legal team will create a defence strategy to do their best to achieve your objectives. We will do everything possible to present your case and personal circumstances in the best light, so the Judge feels legally incapable of imposing unduly harsh sentences and where possible, we will always fight tooth and nail to avoid jail terms.

Would you like to discuss your case before instructing us?

If you’d like to have a no-obligation chat with us before you instruct us to take your case, then call us today.

In addition to giving you a free consultation, we can also represent you at the police station if you’ve been arrested. We can look at securing your legal aid.

Please Contact Us and ask to speak to our indecent images lawyers and sexual offences solicitors to arrange a meeting in person, online or by telephone. If you prefer, you can WhatsApp us from the link you will find at the bottom banner if you open this page on your mobile phone device.

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