TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Possession of child pornography is a felony, but recent plea agreements have allowed perpetrators to avoid being labeled as felons.

A records request revealed about one out of four defendants last year received deals that allowed what is known as “withhold of adjudication.” That allowed them to retain certain rights — including voting and owning a firearm.

According to the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office, 55 of the total 57 defendants in 2021 resolved their cases with plea agreements. The other two pleaded guilty directly to the judge.

The statistic angered child advocate Judy Cornett, whose son was abducted and assaulted in 1991.

“Those people are just as guilty as that person who initiated that very first photo,” Cornett said.

State Attorney Andrew Warren said the “typical defendant” his office prosecutes is caught with about 300 images and on average and is sentenced to seven years in prison.

“The facts of all these cases are so disgusting they make you want to throw up,” Warren said.

He said withhold of adjudication is offered for first offenders caught with fewer than 50 images who are considered a low risk to repeat offend after a psychological evaluation.

Tampa attorney Chris Ragano was arrested last year after he was caught with dozens of images. As part of a plea agreement with the Hillsborough County State Attorney, and with a judge’s approval, Ragano received withold of ajudication.

His attorney Bryant Camareno pointed out he will still be a registered sex offender for life.

“So even though he’s not a convicted felon, he still has all those requirements,” Camareno said. “Which is no internet. Random searches. He will be watched constantly and if he reoffends he will get a prison sentence.”

But the stats anger Cornett who said the children are victims for life — first when they’re assaulted as the pictures and videos are produced, and then again when the images are shared.

“So, there’s two life sentences for this child and this sex offender is getting withhold adjudication?” Cornett said. “This is a slap on the wrist, and they will re-offend. They can’t help themselves.”

According to Warren, longer prison terms do not always stick. He referenced a case involving a defendant who received a 20-year sentence that was later reduced to 10 by a judge.

“You want to lock them up and throw away the key but that’s not the law in Florida,” Warren said. “The system in Florida ranks crimes by severity. Possessing child pornography is a third-degree felony. The same level of crime as possessing an ounce of marijuana.”

Cornett said while eliminating the crime is nearly impossible, more needs to be done.

“These guys get out and learn how to avoid being caught,” Cornett said. “Adjudication withheld? They will re-offend.”

Editor’s Note: A previous copy of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Judy Cornett. The error has been corrected.