Mark Salling's Child Pornography Charges: What's at Stake?

Criminal defense attorney Lou Shapiro weighs in on the severity of and possible jail time attached to Mark Salling's child pornography charges

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty

brightcove.createExperiences(); As Mark Salling heads to turn himself in for arraignment on child pornography charges, the severity of the allegations against continue to shock the fans of the former Glee star.

The actor, 33, was named in a two count indictment last week, alleging he received and possessed videos and still images of child pornography involving young girls in December 2015. According to investigators, the laptop, a hard drive, and a USB flash drive seized from Salling’s residence allegedly contained thousands of images and videos depicting child pornography.

Before he arrived at court for his arraignment on Friday, PEOPLE reached out to criminal defense attorney Lou Shapiro, who is not involved in the case, to help explain what’s at stake in this high profile case. Salling’s rep and attorney have not returned requests for comment.

How serious are these charges?

Very serious. [If convicted], he would be a convicted felon and have to register as a sex-offender for the rest of his life.

What kind of punishment/jail time are we looking at?
The Federal Sentencing Guidelines have a five-year mandatory minimum for the “receipt” charge. If the prosecutor dismisses that charge and allows him to plead to the “possession” charge then it can be no prison, and potentially probation. Usually some prison is always involved in these types of cases. The fact that he has no record will be very mitigating for him. But, if there are a lot of images and videos involved, then that can hurt him at drastically at sentencing.

What is the receipt charge?
There are two charges basically. One is – it’s kind of an issue of semantics, but that’s how it works – is he actually received it, and the other charge is that he just possessed it. Think of the difference, on a computer, getting an email from someone, that’s the five-year mandatory versus having it under your bed in a magazine.

Is it easier to defend the ‘receipt’ charge because you can’t control who sends you things?
So to speak, but usually these cases are a slam dunk. They’re usually [discovered] in a chat room and the FBI is pretending to be other players in the chat room. You never have a defense on these cases, practically.

Why did it take so long for authorities to officially charge Salling [who was arrested in December but not charged until this month]?
That’s very common. The FBI has many cases of this type that need to be investigated and the forensic testing done on electronics is very time consuming. Think of it as a factory line. They take about a year on average to do the forensic testing. It’s not because the computer itself is time consuming, it’s more because there’s a backlog of these cases.

What impact will this have on Salling s career and reputation?
The best actor and/or singer would have an insurmountable hurdle to overcome such a devastating career setback. I wish I had better news for him.

What is interesting or surprising about this case to you?
The reason why it doesn t surprise me is, with respect to child pornography cases, no one is immune to it, it’s more of a mental health component. If they have it, they have it, regardless of what they do in their career. It affects everybody. It’s usually an underlying form of a mental health illness that causes the person to be attracted to this or want to see it.

You said people don’t usually defend these cases, but is this one defensible?
It’s mitigating but not excusable. Maybe you can get a client less time or maybe just probation with sexual offender treatment, if you can show that this is really – again because everyone that does this has a mental health component to it, it can only be mitigating to extent.

What do you anticipate the charges or prison time to be? Can he get out of it?
It depends on what he has on his computer. If he had a few images, a few videos, he could get out of prison altogether. If he had boatloads of them, that’s a different matter. That’s what it’s going to come down to, the numerical amount. If it’s minimal, you couldn’t ask for a better case in this context. Usually we’re used to seeing in the hundreds and thousands, numbers. More thousands than anything else.

Related Articles