Generally speaking, online solicitation of a minor is when someone ‘cyberstalks,’ or begins engaging in sexual conversations with a minor child over the internet. Very often, law enforcement officers will create a ‘sting operation.’ A police officer will pose as a child in certain online chat rooms, waiting for a suspected child predator to strike up inappropriate conversations, or make an attempt to meet in person. in Texas, a minor is considered to be someone under the age of 17.
Is online solicitation of a minor in Texas a felony or a misdemeanor?
This crime is a felony, but the severity of the crime charged will depend on the facts and circumstances of the case. The statute is found in Texas Penal Code Section 33.021. The crime is a third-degree felony if the adult speaks to a minor online or through some other electronic messaging service and “intentionally communicates in a sexually explicit manner or distributes sexually explicit material” with that minor. The law also requires the defendant to have the intent to ‘arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.’
If the child is under the age of 14, then the category moves up to a second-degree felony. Additionally, the severity of the crime increases if the adult uses the Internet or some other electronic messaging service to solicit a minor to meet up with the intent to engage in sexual contact with the minor. Therefore, a second-degree felony involves either a very young minor or the attempt to meet up with a minor for sexual purposes (or both).
What is ‘sexually explicit’ as defined under the statute?
The law is fairly broad in scope. It refers to any communication, language or material, including photos or videos, which relates to or describes any sexual conduct. Remember, this behavior is aimed at someone who is under 17 or anyone who also represents themselves as younger than 17 so that the accused believes the person they are speaking with is younger than 17. That is why someone can be arrested for speaking to an adult police officer merely posing as a child.
What is the punishment for online solicitation of a minor in Texas?
The punishment for this crime depends on the classification of it – whether it is a second or third-degree felony.
If it is a third-degree felony, the defendant could face between 2 and 10 years in a state prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.00 if they are convicted.
For the more severe crime of a second-degree felony, the punishment is between 2 and 20 years, with the same fine.
What if a meeting never actually happened – is this a good defense to online solicitation of a minor in Texas?
Unfortunately, no. The statute is explicit that there is no defense if the meeting did not actually occur. It is also not a defense if the defendant never intended for the meeting to occur, or if he or she was engaged in some sort of fantasy at the time of the conduct.
However, there are some defenses available to those accused of violating the law. For instance: (1) if the accused was married to the minor at the time of the offense, or (2) the accused is no more than 3 years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct, this will be a defense. Therefore, explicit messages or ‘sext messages’ between a 19-year old and his 16-year old girlfriend would not necessarily be grounds for a conviction under this statute, so long as the 16-year old consented to the behavior. An experienced sex crimes attorney might also be able to show that the defendant was illegally entrapped by law enforcement officers who were posing as children online in an attempt to defend their client.
How do police catch individuals accused of online solicitation of a minor?
As mentioned previously, most arrests occur as a result of online, undercover sting operations. Most often, a police officer will pretend to be a minor child – usually between the ages of 13 – 15. The officer will set up a fake profile and go into a chat room. They will wait for an adult to contact them, and the officer will allow the conversation to grow. Ultimately, law enforcement hopes that the offender will request a face-to-face meeting, as those charges are more serious. Then, at the meeting, the suspect is arrested. These cases can be difficult to defend. The state usually has significant evidence implicating the defendant and his or her conduct at the time.
Of course, if you ever suspect that you are the subject of an investigation for online solicitation of a minor in Texas, the best thing you can do is speak with an experienced sex-crimes criminal defense attorney. Early involvement with a lawyer can sometimes prevent charges from ever being filed in the first place.
Is online solicitation of a minor also a federal crime?
Yes. Federal law classifies minors as individuals under the age of 18 and it is a felony. Federal sentencing regimes are far more severe: the minimum punishment is 10 years imprisonment, while the maximum sentence is life in prison. If the adult uses the minor to create child pornography, the penalties are increased. As in Texas, it is also a federal crime to send sexually explicit material online to anyone under the age of 16. If convicted, this crime carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Paul Schiffer | Houston Sex Crimes Attorney
Online solicitation of a minor is a serious crime both in Texas and in federal courts. The law is complex, and the punishments are extreme. If you have been accused of soliciting a minor online in Texas, the best thing you can do for your case is to hire a competent and aggressive sex-crimes criminal defense attorney. The Law Office of Paul Schiffer has over 40 years of experience defending individuals. For a free and private initial case evaluation, contact the team at the Law Office of Paul Schiffer at 713-521-0059.