In March 2015 twelve men were arrested as part of a three-day sting called Operation Spring Cleaning in Fort Bend County, Texas. This was a joint operation by the Fort Bend Sheriff's Office and the Sugar Land Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. The men arrested ranged in age from 19 to 43, and all of them are charged with online solicitation of a minor and attempted sexual assault.
Law enforcement officers made contact with the men by posing as children in online social media sites. Officers then said the men then arranged a spot to meet, thinking they would be meeting a child for sex. On top of that officials also released video of them confronting and arresting the Johns in question.
In addition to the operations going on in Fort Bend County, Montgomery County is also active and 26 people were arrested in July 2015 in a online child sex sting operation. This sting operation was made up of a task force that brought together Conroe P.D., Montgomery County Constables, and DA's office, and even Homeland Security.
Online Solicitation Laws in Texas
When the technology we use everyday to communicate is used to commit an illegal action criminal charges my be the end result. Engaging in sexual conversations with minors using any one of the many electronic means of communication is a serious felony. Texas has created tough laws to prosecute anyone who tries to entice, lure or persuade children to engage in sexual behavior all in an attempt to protect children.
What Is offense of Online Solicitation of A Minor?
The Texas Penal Code, section 32.021 states that online solicitation of a minor occurs when a person aged 17 or older uses the Internet, email or any electronic means of communication in an attempt to get a person younger than 17 to engage in sexual conversations or activity. This includes any type of explicit sexual language or exchanging sexually explicit photos or videos.
It is also an offense to attempt to persuade a person younger than 17 to engage in any type of sexual activity or any type of sexual performance.
As was detailed in the examples above stories of online solicitation of a minor often appear in the media. Police departments have been creating sting operations to catch suspected sexual predators. As part of the operation, an police officer who is actually an adult may pose as a young child to lure suspected predators into engaging in sexually explicit language. Some people may believe that engaging in this type of conversation with an adult posing as a minor may constitute entrapment or may not actually be illegal.
In criminal law, entrapment is a practice whereby a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit a criminal offense that the person would have otherwise been unlikely to commit. It is a conduct that is generally discouraged and thus, in many jurisdictions, is a possible defense against criminal liability. Any criminal defense lawyer with a client caught up in one of these sting needs to evaluate whether entrapment is a viable defense. This has to be done on a case by case basis and is case sensitive to the the facts.
However, Texas law is very clear. It is illegal for an adult to engage in any type of electronic sexual discussion with a person who:
- Claims to be under the age of 17
- Is believed by the adult to be under the age of 17
So, if a person claims to be a minor or if the adult believes that the person to whom they are speaking is a minor, criminal charges can be filed if sexual discussions take place.
What are the possible Legal Penalties?
Online solicitation of a minor is a very serious crime that can be punished with a harsh sentence. Under Texas law, online solicitation of a minor is a third degree felony and a conviction for this offense can lead to:
- Incarceration in state prison for up to 10 years
- A fine of up to $10,000
However, If the minor involved in a particular case is under the age of 14 years, the range of punishment can change to a second degree felony. The possible the sentence can include:
- Incarceration in state prison for up to 20 years
- A fine of up to $10,000
In some cases, a person who is convicted of online solicitation of a minor may be ordered to register as a sex offender and submit to supervised monitoring upon release from incarceration.
Are there any Legal Defenses?
Texas laws regarding this offense have been carefully crafted to nullify common defenses to these charges. For example, the Texas Penal Code states that it is not a defense to prosecution to claim that the defendant did not actually intend to meet with a minor for sexual purposes. Similarly, it is not a valid legal defense to argue that the scheduled meeting never took place or that the defendant was only engaging in a fantasy.
Arranging a meeting with a minor with sexual intentions is enough for the State to proceed in the to prosecution of a person.
However, There are two legal defenses that may apply. it is a valid legal defense to claim that the defendant was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct. Also, if the adult and the minor are legally married, this fact can be used as a legal defense.
A person accused of this type of crime has a right to an attorney. A defense attorney may be able to help defendants accused of this crime fight these charges in court. This may result in lowered charges that avoid jail time or sex offender registration. Consulting with an attorney is the best way to prepare this type of legal defense.
If you or someone you know is facing charges of a sexual crime, it’s important to retain a strong legal defense. Rosario Stornello is a Sugar Land-based lawyers that has the training and experience needed to protect your rights. Contact the Stornello Law Firm PC today at (281) 369-4506. We handle cases in Harris County, Fort Bend County, and all of the other surrounding counties to Sugar Land.