North Carolina Lawmakers to Toughen Child Porn Penalties

John Stuart
RALEIGH, N.C. — A special legislative panel has begun to draft legislation that will greatly increase penalties against those guilty of possessing or selling child pornography in the state.

Current North Carolina laws only call for four to six months’ probation for a person convicted of possessing child pornography, while states like Georgia issue sentences of up to 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

“With such a weak sentence, they realize there’s no debt to pay,” Rep. Bruce Goforth told XBIZ. “I am very upset with that, because we’ve got 65,000 people on the Internet right now [downloading child porn], and we can’t catch them or do anything when we do catch them. Only 45 were convicted last year.”

The legislation faces some red tape, but lawmakers are eager to put it into effect quickly, according to Goforth.

“We’ll be introducing it probably the first week in February,” Goforth said. “It will have to go through several committees and the House and Senate, but I hope we get it out this year. I hope it gets out by July 1.”

All penalties in North Carolina law are listed by alphabet letter in ascending order of harshness, going from A to I.

“I would like to go to the D,” Goforth said. “That would require a minimum of five years [in prison] on first offense.”

Goforth introduced a bill earlier in 2006 which goes into effect Dec. 1, prohibiting persons convicted of downloading child pornography from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other child gathering sites.

Part of what is driving the new legislation, Goforth said, is a case in his Black Mountain area of the state in which a sex offender arranged to rendezvous with an underage girl he’d met online.

“We’re looking at a huge percentage of predatory offenders who are downloading and uploading these images,” Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children, told lawmakers.