In 2003, then Attorney General Greg Abbott established a Cyber Crimes Unit, primarily to catch child predators online. In order to obtain a solicitation of a minor charge, law enforcement officers pose as minors in online chat rooms, even on adults-only, sexually oriented websites. Officers, some of who are experts at identifying lonely or unaware individuals, attempt to instigate a statement “to solicit or entice” a meeting or sexual conduct. Cases may be brought against persons who lacked intent to actually engage in any activity, believing their conduct to be an anonymous internet fantasy. Unexpectedly, an individual may be facing a felony charge, which entails prison time and possible lifetime registration as a sexual predator.
What is Online Solicitation of a Minor?
The offense of online solicitation of a minor occurs when a person, over the Internet, text message or some other messaging site, knowingly solicits a minor, or a person who the actor believes to be a minor, with the intent that the minor will engage in some sort of sexual act with the actor of another person.
This means that the State has to prove that you knew you were talking to a minor and you had every intent to engage in some sort of sexual act with the minor.
A minor is defined as an individual who represents himself or herself to be younger than 17 years of age or an individual whom the actor believes to be younger than 17 years of age. This definition is important because it permits undercover officers to be classified as a minor if they represent to the actor that they are under 17. This is commonly done early on and often in the conversation.
What is the Punishment for Online Solicitation of a Minor?
A person charged with Online Solicitation of a Minor face the potential punishment of 2 – 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Further, the person will be labeled a sexual predator and forced to register as a sex offender.
Is Online Solicitation of a Minor Unconstitutional?
In 2014, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals struck down much of the Solicitation of a Minor statute (33.021); however, subsection (c) of the statute remains constitutional. The Court struck down the part where it is illegal to be sexually explicit with a minor but still allowed the criminalization of setting up meetings with minors with the intent to engage in a sexual act.
How do Police Sting Operations work?
In order to proactively pursue these cases, law enforcement will pose online in an attempt to lure individuals into committing this overbroad criminal offense. Law enforcement will create an online ad, respond to an ad, or venture into online chatrooms. The officer will then pose as a minor and once a person begins chatting with law enforcement, the officer attempts to make his criminal case.
The officer will state that he/she is underage and willing to engage in sex. After the officer believes they have made the case they will set up a meeting. It is at this meeting where the officer will make his arrest.
How to beat an Online Solicitation of a Minor charge?
Although these cases may seem straight forward, an experienced Online Solicitation of a Minor attorney can create legitimate, effective defenses to what appears to be a black and white case.
Fantasy, role-playing defense
While it is not a defense that the meeting did not actually occur, fantasy role-playing is a defense. In the world of online internet anonymity, many people take on a different persona and discuss many fantasies or even curious taboo subjects with other people they meet online. They may pose as the opposite sex, as a younger person, as a transgender person or any other identity that person may be interested at that time. These types of role-playing and some-times sexual or taboo conversations are protected by the Constitution. If the State wants to prosecute someone, then they must prove that this role-playing did not occur.
Lack of intent of knowledge defense
The State must prove that the person knew he was talking to a minor and he had every intention of meeting up for sex. This may seem obvious from a black and white text, but Paul Doyle understands that not everything is as it seems. Often before a meet up, there is clear hesitation—hesitation that may never cease. This hesitation, if proved, can prevent the State from making its case. Further, because of the anonymity that comes with online chatting, most people never really know or believe who the person they are talking to IS the person they are talking to. The State has to prove that the person charged knew who they were talking to was a minor (or someone they believe to be a minor).
Another common defense is entrapment. Officers may not improperly induce a suspect to commit a crime. The officer is not allowed to initiate sexually related conversations or be the person who proposes to engage in sexual activity. Entrapment defenses are complex and not as straightforward as they initially appear. These defenses must be well developed and researched by looking at the totality of the circumstances and the background of the individual. Paul finds it especially important to fully understand his client in order to best represent him or her.
Suppression of Inadmissible or Illegally Obtained Forensic Data
The agencies handling these cases are given federal grant money for their investigations. Many agencies work in conjunction with other agencies that are supervised by an ICAC Task Force. ICAC stands for Internet Crimes Against Children. Paul has exposed incredibly reckless, misleading, and corrupt police work committed by several of these agencies. It seems as though some agencies file these cases for the sake of numbers, stats, and publicity. The public sees that cases are filed but rarely are the results published. This leads to sloppy investigations. Through discovery, Paul obtained the specific guidelines set forth by ICAC. Many times, law enforcement does not meet their own standards.
Few lawyers even know these standards exist. Paul has handled many of these online solicitation cases and has the expertise to identify these poor techniques and potentially suppressible evidence. One piece of inadmissible evidence could the difference between an individual’s freedom and prison.
Hire Paul Doyle for your Online Solicitation of a Minor charge
These defenses must be well developed and researched by looking at the totality of the circumstances and the background of the individual. Paul is an experienced trial lawyer who will aggressively fight to ensure you receive a fair case in court. Paul conducts extensive investigations for his clients, knowing that the prosecution can often overlook important facts that may render a different judgment. This investigation includes hiring some of the best forensic experts in Texas, getting to know and understand his client, and diving into the backgrounds of the officers involved in the sting operation.
The investigation is especially important regarding cyber-crimes where the State is attempting to criminalize citizen’s thoughts and desires. Innocent people may easily be charged with crimes they didn’t commit. Paul works to analyze the details of each of his client’s cases to marginalize the possible consequences of an Online Solicitation of a Minor conviction.
If you or someone you know has been accused of Online Solicitation of a Minor, you need a lawyer who has dealt with similar cases and has the knowledge to defend you. Paul Doyle understands the complexities of these cases and knows how to fully develop defenses. Contact Paul Doyle now to discuss your case.