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Sentencing for downloading indecent images

What is the sentence for downloading indecent images in 2024?

Also known ‘making indecent images’ the offence of downloading indecent images is not taken lightly by prosecutors. Contrary to how it may be perceived, the offence of ‘making indecent images’ is not the same as producing images by taking photographs or videos yourself. If you’re part of a downloading indecent images investigation, you may hear either of these terms used during your case.

hacker cybercrime

It’s important to note that prosecutors will need to prove that you deliberately and intentionally downloaded the images. In some situations, the accused has no idea that an image of this nature is on their computer. Only when they get arrested and are suddenly at the centre of an uncomfortable investigation will they become aware. In some cases, ‘cached’ indecent images are found in the memory of a device. Or there may still be unallocated space after the file(s) has been deleted and it’s this that is used as evidence in court.

There is a series of indecent images offences with downloading indecent images being one of the most serious. A complicated string of police meetings, interventions and engagements will typically occur during a full investigation. All this will put the accused into a state of terror and overwhelm. Now is the time when a criminal solicitor with experience in indecent image cases will make all the difference for the accused. Providing guidance and support, they can tell the accused what to say and do during any police interview, communication and at court.

Read more information about the offence of Downloading indecent images

Have you been charged or arrested for downloading indecent images? 

Indecent image investigations can trigger much stress and worry for the accused. What will happen, who will find out and will a sentence be issued are all common questions.

Commonly, there’s no truth in the allegations. However, no matter what the circumstances are, the stress will seep into your everyday life and you’re likely to be worried whether friends and family will hear about your case and what might happen with regards to your career.

The possession of indecent images is a sexual offence, and for those found guilty and convicted, the punishment can be harsh, depending on how obscene the images are judged to be.

To help you to understand what the outcome might be as a result of being convicted of the downloading 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.

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.

Where there is more than one image, the prosecution will categorise the photos into the above framework with this being used by the court with regards to sentencing.

The court will also consider what the images have been used for and how. Were they used for possession, distribution or production? On this page, we will be exploring the sentencing for downloading indecent images. You may find sentencing for other related offences by heading over to our sentencing index.

What is the average sentence for downloading indecent images offences?

The least serious offence of downloading indecent images is those that relate to the downloading 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.

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

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

 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.

How does a court decide on the seriousness of the downloading 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 downloaded
  • How many images were downloaded?
  • 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 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 downloading indecent images sentence?

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

  • Whether the defendant is disabled or mentally ill
  • The age of the defendant, i.e. if 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 downloading 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 course of 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 downloading 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 downloading 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 sufficient 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 downloading 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.

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

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).

How Can Stuart Miller Solicitors Help?

If you are accused of downloading indecent images, our specialist team of criminal solicitors can provide you with in-depth advice in a clear and concise manner. Our extensive understanding of the Protection of Children Act puts us head and shoulders above the rest when representing those who are accused of offences in this complex area of law. Our criminal solicitors will apply their knowledge, skill and expertise in finding the best strategy and solutions to defend your case. We work alongside our cybercrime lawyers to challenge technological issues and contest the prosecution’s allegations.

Our criminal solicitors understand that accusations of downloading indecent images will cause you a tremendous amount of confusion and anxiety. With so much negative press surrounding sexual offences, it is understandable you will feel stressed, worried and afraid to seek help. We are confined to the strict rules of the Solicitors Regulation Authority which offers you the protection of confidentiality. We have committed our lives to the defence of those prosecuted by the State and we promise never to pass judgment. All our Criminal Solicitors are professionals and absolutely dedicated to achieving the best possible results for our clients.

Our indecent images specialists are criminal solicitors that provide representation throughout police interviews and at all stages of the court process. As with any offence, the earlier our team are involved in the process, the higher the likelihood of success.

How we can help

We have access to the United Kingdom’s leading forensic experts. We can instruct these experts to re-analyse your devices which have been seized by the police. This meticulous analysis frequently uncovers inconsistencies in the digital evidence presented by the prosecution and ensures all avenues of your defence is explored.

Our team truly work with the mindset that you are innocent until proven guilty. We will listen to your instructions intently and advise you on the best course of action from the police station stage and throughout the Court process. Once instructed by you, we will put pressure on the investigators to ensure they fulfil their duties of investigating expeditiously. The earlier in the process we are instructed, the more effective our representation will be.

Categorising the images

Once indecent images are located on the electronic device, the police will categorise them as an A, B or C image – depending on the nature of the image or video. To prove the charge of downloading indecent images, it is for the prosecution to demonstrate that you knowingly had custody and control of the images stored on a device and you were able to retrieve the images from the device. It is essential you contact our team of experts as early as possible so we can engage the UK’s leading experts to analyse the devices where the Indecent Images were found.

The experts we use can recategorise indecent images if we dispute the prosecution’s categorisation. They can explore numerous avenues that can prove essential to support your case. They can provide evidence on where the Indecent Images were found when they were downloaded and how many times they have been viewed. They can often confirm whether they were found as part of a search or whether they came into existence on the device following a pop-up from a legitimate legal website.

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 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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