The Limits of Child Pornography

52 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2013 Last revised: 8 Aug 2013

See all articles by Carissa Byrne Hessick

Carissa Byrne Hessick

University of North Carolina School of Law; Prosecutors and Politics Project

Date Written: March 25, 2013


Although the First Amendment ordinarily protects the creation, distribution, and possession of visual images, the Supreme Court has declared that those protections do not apply to child pornography. But the Court has failed to define child pornography. Providing a clear definition of the child pornography exception to the First Amendment has become increasingly important because recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the penalties associated with the creation, distribution, and possession of child pornography.

This Article proposes a clear definition of the child pornography exception. It argues that an image ought to fall within the exception only if a child was sexually exploited or abused in the creation of the image. That the circulation of an image might inflict privacy or reputational harm on the minor depicted should be insufficient to categorize that image as child pornography for constitutional purposes. This proposed definition would place tangible limitations on child pornography prosecutions; it would prevent prosecution in many cases where the minor depicted is above the age of consent, where the image was created through computer morphing, and where the image is the result of surreptitious filming or photographing of a minor.

Keywords: Child Pornography, Criminal Law, Criminal Punishment, First Amendment, Sex Offenders

Suggested Citation

Hessick, Carissa Byrne, The Limits of Child Pornography (March 25, 2013). Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 89, 2014, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 33, Available at SSRN:

Carissa Byrne Hessick (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

Prosecutors and Politics Project ( email )

University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
United States

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