Yes, without a doubt, even one act of downloading a single piece of child pornography - whether that be a photo, video or other media - can mean criminal sex crimes charges. The possession of child pornography is against both North Carolina and federal laws; downloading one file and quickly deleting it can mean a knock on the door from the cops.
That said, it may not be likely that one accidentally downloaded image will mean prison time. An experienced child pornography defense attorney should be able to examine the facts of the case against you and create a defense strategy that will work toward the best possible outcome. If you truly did download only one piece of illegal internet pornography and that download was accidental, the best possible result would be a dismissal or avoiding the filing of criminal charges altogether.
Accidental Download of Child Porn
It is currently not illegal to possess pornographic material that depicts adults engaged in consensual contact. However, you should be aware that downloading adult porn in bulk can lead to child porn charges if a snippet of a minor is accidently included in your downloaded content.
If you use a file sharing system like LimeWire, Gnutella or Bittorrent, you may face distribution of child pornography charges in addition to possession charges if your security settings allow others to access illegal images stored in your system. These often need to be reset each time an update to a P2P file-sharing system is made.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously ruled that a warrant is not required for police to search or seize images that are shared or downloaded via a P2P network. Because the file-sharing systems allow the public to access your computer, the police may do so as well. In other words, you have no expectation of privacy in the shared folder of your P2P network.
Internet-based sex offenses are serious criminal charges. If you think you are being investigated or have been arrested and charged or indicted on child pornography charges, you should contact an experienced sex crimes defense attorney right away.