When Is Internet Contact with a Minor Considered a Crime?

Interviewer: At what point is it considered committing a crime? Is it just once they let you know the age of the person who wants to engage, and you continue to engage? Is that a crime? Is it when you send a photo? Is it when you go to meet them? At what point does it turn into a crime, or is it a crime the entire time?

Amir: That’s really the heart of the cases. At what point has a crime been committed? Having a discussion with this other individual by itself may or may not be a crime. You have to look very closely at what is the nature of the dialog? What’s being said? How is it being presented? Who is presenting it? Then you have to look to the statute for some guidance. What we’re dealing with, for example, on one of the more prevalent charges, an offense of traveling to meet a minor after using a computer to solicit a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of the child.

In these fact patterns, the parent, legal guardian, or custodian is the undercover detective who is doing the chat. What the charge says is that the defendant has used some type of online service and they have utilized it to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child.

Or a person believed to be the apparent parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child to consent to the participation of such child in illegal act described within the statute. It is basically, sexual conduct with a minor.

The question is when did that actually take place? They would have to actually travel in this particular scenario, to a location after having communicated that they have the intent to have unlawful sex with a minor child.

The fact is that I’m seeing several cases where there hasn’t been sufficient evidence demonstrated that the defendant was actually the person who was trying to seduce, solicit, lure, entice, or that they had any interest in the minor child. That action was actually being done by law enforcement.

Interviewer: When they say they want to meet up, have there been cases where they said, “Hey, let’s just meet at a mall and hang out and see where this goes,” and is that considered a problem, or is explicit, deliberate, “Lets meet up at the motel and engage there?”

Amir: What law enforcement officers try to do is entice the person to come and meet up at a home. The home is portrayed as a place where only the adult female and underage child will be at the time. The houses are actually set up with cameras, and surveillance equipment, and recording devises. They have multiple law enforcement agencies working in these things that are there both doing the chatting from that location and then when people show up to the home, apprehending, immediately arresting, questioning, and interrogating these folks and then sending them off to jail to be booked.

Interviewer: That sounds pretty serious.

Amir: It’s become a huge focal point in large part because one of the local law enforcement agencies secured federal funding to do these investigations. Instead of investigating people that are on the Internet seeking out minors or seeking parents of minors, they are creating these scenarios and then arresting people.

It’s causing a real problem in my opinion. I certainly understand why law enforcement might be trying to seek out sexual predators that are targeting children, but that doesn’t appear to be what’s actually happening in these investigations.

Interviewer: Have you ever had a case where one law enforcement group is enticing another law enforcement group by accident and they cross, or no?

Amir: No, I haven’t seen that. Most of these reverse stings involve multiple law enforcement agencies, and I think they are all pretty much on the same page with each other. So that hasn’t happened.

Interviewer: Yes. How can you defend this as an attorney” Would you get in trouble in even giving legal advice on how to defend this? Are you assisting in the committing of this crime by doing this?

People From All Walks of Life Can Be Charged with This Offense

Amir: No. We have every right to present defenses on behalf of our clients without worrying about being prosecuted. These are scenarios where I think more often than not, the offenders have no criminal record, no history of any kind.

I’ve got recent college graduates, professionals, people you would never consider criminal per se. They are absolutely entitled to have a full and complete defense. I don’t fear any repercussions in providing them with the utmost legal representation.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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