Online Solicitation of a Minor: A State AND Federal Offense
With the rise of mobile means of communication—texting, Snapchat, Facebook, and other various websites and apps—communicating with others has never been easier. However, it is important to understand that certain communications can lead to criminal convictions, especially when the communications are with a minor.
Sending Sexual Communications Can Be a Felony in Texas
Under Texas Penal Code § 33.021, it is a second- or third-degree felony to solicit a minor over the Internet. At first glance, this crime seems straightforward enough, but its reach is a lot broader than many seem to realize. Most people assume that a crime is only committed if a person attempts to have a minor meet them in person; however, that is not the case.
If someone uses the Internet, text messages, email, or any other online service to communicate with a minor in a sexual manner—even if there are never plans to meet the minor in real life—then that is a punishable offense in Texas. A person over the age of 17 absolutely cannot have any form of sexual communication with a minor. The list of prohibited conduct includes sending minors sexually explicit messages, sharing pornographic images or videos, describing sexual conduct or contact, or asking to meet a minor for sexual conduct. Harsher penalties are imposed if the minor is under the age of 14. Different statutes apply to minors communicating with other minors (as in the case of sexting among teens and pre-teens.)
Even if the recipient of the messages is impersonating a minor, the communication can still result in a second- or third-degree felony conviction. In fact, many of the arrests associated with this crime come about due to police “sting” operations in which the police create online personas pretending to be minors. The police keep logs of the conversations, and they then use the logs as evidence for later convictions.
Once arrested, it is difficult to defend against these types of charges. It is not a defense to claim that the actor never actually met with the minor. Nor is it a defense that the “victim” was impersonating a minor. If the accused thought he or she was communicating with a minor, this is enough evidence for a conviction. The only valid defenses are if the actor was married to the minor, or the actor was within three years of age of the minor and the minor consented to the alleged conduct. In the case of an educator communicating with a student who is a minor using technology, the three-year age rule does not apply.
The Federal Government Can Prosecute for the Same Crime
Solicitation of a minor is also a federal crime. Under 18 United States Code §§ 2422 & 2423, it is illegal to use mail, the Internet, or any other form of interstate or international communication to solicit a minor for sex. Furthermore, it is illegal to travel across state lines for the purpose of engaging in illicit activity with a minor or to send sexually explicit material to anybody younger than 16 years of age through the mail or the Internet.
Under federal law, convictions for these crimes carry harsh penalties. If convicted, an offender faces anywhere from 10-30 years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines and sex offender registration for life. These penalties increase if child pornography was created as well.
To make matters worse for the accused, an offender could face two trials and two convictions—one in state court, and one in federal court. If convicted, the sentences could be served consecutively, effectively doubling the total length of a potential sentence.
If you’re facing charges related to an online solicitation or technology-related arrest, we can help you. Our firm has experience in successfully defending at trial, reducing the aftermath for defendants and helping you move on with your life as quickly as possible.