Legal expert says he's “likely” to be investigated, but LAPD says it has not opened one
There's a chance Perez Hilton could face criminal charges for tweeting a Miley Cyrus upskirt photo that may or may not show the 17-year-old pop star’s vagina.
Hilton did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. Instead, he posted this a video responding to the controversy, saying he knew Cyrus was wearing underwear all along.
"Miley was clearly wearing underwear," Hilton said. "Do you think Miley is that stupid to be out in public without panties? Do you think I'm stupid enough to post a photo of Miley if she's not wearing any underwear down there? Sure I like to be controversial, but I don't want to go to jail."
According to some legal experts, though, Hilton’s posting could be considered child pornography under both federal and state law — if it turns out she was, in fact, pantyless.
“The laws governing child pornography are extraordinarily far reaching,” Jeffrey Douglas, a Santa Monica criminal defense attorney who specializes in child pornography cases, told TheWrap. Douglas said Hilton’s tweet appears to be in violation of 18 USC Sect. 2252A – knowingly distributing child pornography. “He didn't have to know what the definition of the law is. If you distribute a photograph, you’ve committed a crime.”
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department told TheWrap that they are not currently investigating the matter. Cyrus has not filed a complaint, according to the LAPD.
Nonetheless, Douglas said it was “likely” that Hilton – whose real name is Mario Lavandeira – would be investigated, given the media attention and Hilton’s high profile. “Some lawyer who wants to make a name for himself” will pick up the case, though Hilton’s celebrity – and presumed access to powerful lawyers — could work in his favor, too. “If he's not prosecuted, it's because his name is Perez Hilton."
Others weren't so sure. "If it's quite clear that you can see something more than just her underwear, it could prosecuted as a case for distributing child pornography," Mark McBride, another Los Angeles attorney, told TheWrap. "And even then, I would think the shot would have to be very lewd to merit filing of charges. His criminal exposure is likely zilch."
Hilton — who has built his bloggy empire, in part, by defacing celebrity photos — linked to the photo of Cyrus getting out of what appears to be a convertible from his Twitter feed on Sunday.
"If you are easily offended, do NOT click here http://i46.tinypic.com/2rze4pv.jpg Oh, Miley! Warning: truly not for the easily offended!" he wrote to his 2 million-plus followers.
The photo has since been removed, though censored versions have sprouted up on other sites. (Click here to view one.) On Monday, Hilton posted a video praising Cyrus. In it, he saysd "it's OK for Miley to be a little sexier, because she's almost 18."
Meanwhile, there is some speculation that the Cyrus photo was Photoshopped – though it wouldn’t matter in any child pornography case. “You could Photoshop an 8-year-old’s head on an adult body, and under the law, the crime is the same,” Douglas said. (On Tuesday, Hilton sent another tweet linking to a photo of a fully-clothed Cyrus that he says prove “she WAS wearing underwear.”)
The violations Douglas says Hilton could be charged with carry minimum prison terms of 5 to 15 years, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
This isn’t the first time Hilton has posted photos of a starlet’s undercarriage. He has consistently chronicled Britney Spears’ battle to keep her private parts private. But Spears is 28.
Cyrus won’t turn 18 until November 23.
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