State Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R., Essex), who introduced the bill in January, called it the most significant bill he had worked on in his 18 years as a lawmaker. He likened the crime to murder.
"You are destroying a child," he said. "Absolutely degrading, destroying - psychologically, physically, mentally - destroying a child, and that will haunt them the rest of their lives."
The bill seeks to bring New Jersey's laws closer to the federal statutes concerning child pornography, said Chiesa, the only person to testify at the hearing in Trenton.
Those who distribute child pornography are "helping to create a demand for images of children being raped and tortured," Chiesa said before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Unlike federal law, which allows a person in possession of child pornography to be charged for each picture or video, New Jersey's current statutes do not offer harsher penalties to those who possess thousands of images vs. those with only a handful.
New Jersey laws also do not give law enforcement the tools needed to charge those who use file-sharing or peer-to-peer networks to view and distribute child pornography, Chiesa said. More offenders are using the semiprivate networks to exchange the images and videos instead of launching a website visible to all, he said.
If approved, the bill would require anyone convicted of distributing at least 25 items of child pornography to serve a minimum of five years in prison. Repeat offenders could be sentenced to as long as 10 years in prison.
Possession of child pornography would be upgraded to a third-degree offense from its current fourth-degree status. Those convicted of possessing 100 or more images of child pornography would be required to serve at least some time in prison under the bill.
The bill also broadens the scope of who can be charged with causing a child to engage in child pornography, a crime of the first degree, punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison. Now, only parents or caretakers of the child in question can be charged under the highest degree charge; if approved, the bill would allow police to charge anyone who permits or causes a child to engage in sexual acts for pornography with a first-degree crime.
Those charged with a first-degree child pornography offense would be barred from early release, meaning they would have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.
The bill also would criminalize pornography involving those under 18, increasing the age at which a person can be considered a victim. Currently, it is defined as anyone under age 16.
The bill heads to the full Senate for a vote. It awaits action in the Assembly.
Contact Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237 or email@example.com or follow on Twitter at @joellefarrell.