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Almost everyone has seen NBC Dateline's "To Catch a Predator" series. In these programs, an adult serves as "bait," pretending to be a young teen and engaging in sexually explicit conversations online. When the victim of the sting arranges to meet the decoy, a fresh-faced reporter awaits him instead, questioning his motives in front of a TV audience before police arrest him as an online sexual predator. Almost every time, the suspect says something like, "I knew this was going to happen." Yet they push that inner voice aside—the one that says, "You shouldn't be doing this,"—in order to meet the underage object of their desire.
Soliciting minors online is a violation of both federal law and Oklahoma law, and the penalties associated with conviction of this felony are severe. Depending on the circumstances of the case and whether state or U.S. attorneys prosecute the crime, a person charged with online solicitation of a minor faces the possibility of a life sentence in a federal prison.
Finding skillful and experienced defense representation is critical. Consequences of conviction include not only lengthy prison terms but also lifetime registration as sex offender which seriously restricts housing, employment, and other opportunities and brands a convicted offender with a daunting stigma from the public notification of his or her crime.
In Oklahoma, attorney Dustin S. Phillips has built a solid reputation as an effective and winning defense lawyer in challenging sex crime cases. His record of sex crime defense includes multiple acquittals of charges of Soliciting Sexual Conduct or Communications with a Minor by use of Technology, Indecent or Lewd Acts with a Minor, and Indecent or Lewd Proposals to a Minor. Admitted to practice in all state and federal courts in Oklahoma, Mr. Phillips is equipped to handle the most serious cases, leaving no stone unturned in search of the best defense strategies. Committed to defendants' rights, he aggressively pursues an optimal outcome for each client he represents.
At the state level, solicitation of minors is made illegal under 21 O.S. § 1123, the same statute which governs Lewd or Indecent Proposals or Acts to a Child under 16:
A. It is a felony for any person to knowingly and intentionally:
1. Make any oral, written or electronically or computer-generated lewd or indecent proposal to any child under sixteen (16) years of age, or other individual the person believes to be a child under sixteen (16) years of age, for the child to have unlawful sexual relations or sexual intercourse with any person; or . . .
3. Ask, invite, entice, or persuade any child under sixteen (16) years of age, or other individual the person believes to be a child under sixteen (16) years of age, to go alone with any person to a secluded, remote, or secret place, with the unlawful and willful intent and purpose then and there to commit any crime against public decency and morality, as defined by law, with the child; . . .
Any person convicted of any violation of this subsection shall be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for not less than three (3) years nor more than twenty (20) years, except when the child is under twelve (12) years of age at the time the offense is committed, and in such case the person shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for not less than twenty-five (25) years. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply unless the accused is at least three (3) years older than the victim, except when accomplished by the use of force or fear.
This statute eliminates the "legal impossibility" defense in cases resulting from internet sex stings. The legal impossibility defense argues that a crime did not occur and could not occur because no actual minor was involved in the sexually explicit discussions. Because there was no actual minor involved, a defendant could not have possibly solicited a minor. However, because the law includes "or other individual the person believes to be a child under sixteen (16)," this defense is not applicable in Oklahoma.
This version of the law also strengthens associated penalties of conviction by enforcing a minimum sentence of three years, and it requires a mandatory minimum of 25 years in the state penitentiary if the victim of solicitation is a minor under the age of 12.
The United States Criminal Code forbids soliciting minors online in 18 U.S.C. §§ 2422(b):
Using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce to entice or coerce someone younger than 18 years of age to engage in sexual activity is a crime punishable by fine and not less than 10 years imprisonment or life.
As a federal offense, the law is more restrictive—including victims younger than 18 rather than 16—and the penalties are more severe, with a minimum of 10 years in prison as opposed to a 3 year minimum if convicted in Oklahoma state court.
Other federal legislation dealing with computer sex crimes against children provide training to prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, strengthen the penalties associated with certain offenses, and restrict the rights and freedoms of those suspected of using technology for the purpose of luring, enticing, or soliciting minors to engage in illegal sexual activity:
There are a number of defense strategies available for defendants accused of soliciting minors online. Some strategies, such as the legal impossibility defense and the "fantasy chat" defense have limited effectiveness. Others, such as entrapment in an improperly conducted internet sting or mistaken identity may have more success before a jury.
Oklahoma criminal defense attorney Dustin Phillips and his colleagues at Phillips & Associates are dedicated to uncovering the most effective defense strategies for each client and his or her unique case.
Call today for a free evaluation of your case and see how we can help you.