Two Central Texas men face a charge of online solicitation of a minor after the Bell County Sheriff’s Department arrested them as part of a sting operation.
According to Fox 44 News in Waco, the sheriff’s department’s Criminal Investigation Bureau conducted a sting operation in August designed to seek and identify persons trying to meet with minors via social media and engage in sexual conduct with them.
Online solicitation of a minor—in Texas, a minor means a person under the age of 17—is a serious crime in Texas. In fact, it’s a 2nd-degree felony for a person who is 17 or older to use electronic means to solicit or invite a minor to meet with the intent that the minor will engage in sexual behavior.
Punishments upon conviction can include 2 to 10 years in state prison and a fine of as much as $10,000. Upon release from prison, a convicted offender must also register as a sex offender, which can have a severe impact on where they can live or work.
Sting operation involved law officers posing as juveniles
The Central Texas sting operation from August 1 to August 4 involved Bell County investigators posing online as a juvenile under 17 years old.
The two suspects—both in their mid-20s (one from Temple and the other from Pflugerville)—allegedly contacted the supposed minor online and arranged to meet at a designated place in Belton with the intention of engaging in sexual conduct. Upon their arrival, they were arrested by waiting law officers.
Solicitation is a crime in itself
Under Texas law, it doesn’t matter that no sexual activity occurred between an adult and a minor when it comes to a charge of online solicitation of a minor. That’s because solicitation of such an encounter is a crime in itself. In fact, it’s also a federal crime—and you can be charged with both types of Internet sex crimes.
It also doesn’t matter that the person the offender believed to be a minor was actually a law enforcement officer posing as a minor. As long as the offender believed the person contacted online was a minor, that is a crime.
Law officers use the Internet to entice
Law enforcement officials are increasingly using the Internet, via social media or apps, to locate and entice potential sex offenders in order to arrange meetings for sexual conduct—and then arrest those persons when they show up. Again, even when no illegal sexual contact is made, the offender can still wind up in prison for years.
Such Internet sex crimes can take many varied forms. For instance, Texas is also 1 of 23 states that make it illegal to engage in “sexting” (the electronic transmission of sexual images) when a child under 18 years old is involved.
By Texas law, an adult who is more than 2 years older than the recipient or sender of such images can be charged with illegal sexting as a felony sex crime. Such a crime can also involve charges of distributing sexual images to a minor, distributing or possessing child pornography and promoting sexual performance by a minor.
Possession of child porn, which is often obtained via the Internet, is also a serious sex crime. In fact, it’s a 3rd-degree felony. If convicted, you could face a 10-year prison for each count of the crime. For each count, 10 years is the maximum prison sentence, and 2 years is the minimum prison sentence.
And, as with other sex crimes, the penalties can become worse depending on the age of the child involved. If the child shown in pornographic images is younger than 14, the charge is raised to a 1st-degree felony, and the punishments rise to 5 to 99 years in state prison and a fine of as much as $10,000.
Internet is a slippery slope
Of course, the Internet can be a slippery slope for almost anyone. An initially benign process of “surfing the web” or viewing websites for which you had no expectation of wrongdoing may lead to harsh unintended consequences. You could inadvertently cross a legal line—or appear to do so.
That’s why it’s important that you know your legal rights when it comes to claims, accusations or charges of online sex crimes.
For one thing, you may be a victim of police “entrapment.”
According to Texas Penal Code § 8.06, entrapment occurs when the alleged offender who is charged with online solicitation was induced to commit that crime by a law officer who used persuasion or other strategies to encourage the crime.
On the other hand, if no persuasion to act criminally was involved, and the law officer simply provided the opportunity to commit a crime, then that does not involve entrapment.
Get a skilled Internet sex crime defense lawyer
Getting a lawyer doesn’t mean you’re admitting guilt. If anything, engaging a skilled defense attorney shows you mean business, and that you intend to defend your legal rights against a false allegation.
What legal defenses are possible if you’ve been charged with online solicitation of a minor in Texas? Learn about federal and state sex crimes laws & punishments from an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney.
Clearly, if you or a family member faces a claim, accusation or charge of online solicitation of a minor—or a charge of any sex crime in Texas—you still have legal rights. And considering the harshness of Texas sex crime laws, it’s vital that you get a skilled and knowledgeable sex crime defense lawyer to fight for those legal rights.
On the local, state and federal levels, the widely-cast nets of law enforcement officers engaged in overzealous online sting operations have snared many innocent Americans. If you or a family member is among them, you cannot let this go uncontested. You must fight back.