SANTA FE ― Representatives Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Bernalillo, Javier Martinez, D-Bernalillo and Randal Crowder, R-Curry have pre-filed legislation backed by Attorney General Hector Balderas to close New Mexico’s child pornography and exploitation loophole.
The current law limits the ability of prosecutors to charge defendants who possess multiple images of children being raped, objectified, and exploited in multiple forms of media and online.
Currently, these child predators are only subject to prosecution of one count of child exploitation by possession, irrespective of the number of images they possessed.
The bill sponsored by Maestas Barnes, Martinez and Crowder would strengthen the current statute to allow prosecutors the option of prosecuting individuals for each image or depiction of child pornography possessed by the individual.
This bill adds mandatory time when a child depicted in an image of sexual abuse is under 13 so that where the Court or a Jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a baby or toddler being sexually abused, raped, or exploited in the visual or print medium, the offender faces mandatory sex offender registration and mandatory incarceration.
“We have a moral responsibility to protect our children from child pornographers and sexual predators,” Barnes said. “New Mexico cannot be viewed as an attractive location for child pornographers due to weaknesses in our criminal code. We must close this loophole and end this unspeakable exploitation of children.”
“Child pornography is not just pictures or videos, it is horrific violence and assault that children are subjected to in order to make those images and videos,” Balderas said. “New Mexico judges and prosecutors need the appropriate tools when it comes to combatting predators who exploit our children, and closing this loophole will ensure just that. I am urging the legislature to pass this bipartisan legislation that will protect all New Mexico children.”
Juan Santos Torres, a licensed pediatrician, was found guilty in October 2015 of only one count of Sexual Exploitation of Children by Possession despite possessing numerous videos of multiple children being sexually abused. Santos Torres was sentenced to only 14 months in jail, only a small fraction of time due to the child pornography and exploitation loophole.
Joshua Weitz, an Albuquerque Public School kindergarten teacher, was charged in November with only one count of Sexual Exploitation of Children by Possession despite allegedly possessing 40 files of child pornography. The Weitz case has since been accepted for federal prosecution.
“We cannot wait another year to close the child pornography and exploitation loophole because we have child predators in New Mexico who are benefiting from this alarming flaw in our criminal justice system,” Barnes said.
The bill gives prosecutors the flexibility to use their discretion in charging violators based on the nature of the images, sexual abuse depicted, and volume of the collection. It does not mandate prosecution for every image possessed.
Maestas Barnes, Martinez and Crowder introduced similar legislation during the 2015 Legislative Session.
The bipartisan effort was supported by Attorney General Hector Balderas and Gov. Susana Martinez, and unanimously passed the New Mexico House of Representatives but died in the New Mexico Senate Public Affairs Committee.