The computer age has opened up the world to many millions of people in a multitude of ways, but it also can be dangerous. Casual viewing of images online can lead to Internet sex crime charges.
Indeed, it’s vital that Americans understand the extent of Internet sex crime laws and avoid any activities that could be construed as violations. To help, the Houston sex crime defense lawyers at Neal Davis Law have put together this Internet sex crimes overview.
For an overview of Internet sex crimes, first we should examine the types of computer-related sex offenses. These largely include child porn and online solicitation.
Child pornography or child porn can take many different forms, but the key distinction is that it involves displaying or sharing images of underage children. In Texas, underage means minors who are under 18 years old.
Illegal displaying or sharing images can include such things as “sexting.” In fact, Texas is one of 23 states which holds that sexting (the electronic transmission of sexual images) is illegal when it involves children under 18 years old.
Illegal sexting in Texas can lead to the prosecution of adults who are over 2 years older than the recipient or sender of such images. A felony crime, it can involve charges of distributing sexual images to a minor, promoting sexual performance by a minor or distributing or possessing child pornography.
Even Snapchats can lead to child porn charges, as happened in the fall of 2020 with reality TV star Jerry Harris of the Texas-set series Cheer on Netflix. He was charged with production of child pornography for allegedly using Snapchat social media to contact underage boys and encourage them to send him nude photos and videos of themselves.
Possession or distribution/promotion of child porn via the internet is also illegal. Police and other law enforcement authorities have ways to track such activities online and can trace them to a specific computer and its user. Then, they can get a warrant to search and arrest.
Such activities often are part of widespread sting operations in which various law enforcement agencies coordinate. But these stings can sweep up innocent persons into the wide nets they cast. Such persons need an experienced sex crime defense lawyer to fight for their legal rights.
Texas laws are especially harsh when it comes to sex crimes involving minors, and society has a tendency to react in extreme ways against those accused of such crimes. Persons convicted of such crimes can spend years in prison and be fined thousands of dollars.
Also, convicted persons can face punishments that are compounded for each offense.
Recently a man in Spring, Texas was sentenced to 30 years in state prison for 3 counts of child porn possession, with each count carrying a 10-year sentence.
Another type of internet sex crime involving underage children is the online solicitation of a minor. Under Texas law, it is illegal to knowingly or intentionally solicit a minor by means of email, a text message or other ways on the Internet with the intent of the minor meeting someone to engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse.
Under Texas law (Penal Code Section 33.021(b)), a conviction of such a third-degree felony in Texas can include punishments including 2 to 20 years in prison. Also, persons who are convicted of online solicitation of a minor in Texas must register as a sex offender, which can make it difficult to find work, enroll in college or find housing.
One danger zone when it comes to online solicitation of a minor can be “selfies,” which are photos that people take of themselves, often via a smartphone.
If such selfies are shared with others and involve nudity or sexually explicit images, and if the subject or the recipient is a minor, the selfie may be considered child porn. Even minors themselves can be charged in some cases for sharing such images among each other, though their punishments are less harsh than those for adults.
One defense against an internet child porn charge involves entrapment. That means law officers lied or presented themselves online in such a way as to encourage someone to commit a crime involving internet child porn which the person otherwise would not have committed. In effect, the law officers brought about the crime.
A sex crime defense attorney can also emphasize the state’s burden to prove that a defendant “knowingly or intentionally possessed” the visual material. Just because you had access to such materials doesn’t mean that you knowingly or intentionally possessed them with an intent to view them.
The state also must prove that the defendant knew that the persons depicted in the material were under 18 years old. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it also may be possible to show that the person or persons in the material were, in fact, 18 years old or older.
When it comes to defenses against solicitation of a minor, many persons are falsely accused but an experienced sex crime defense lawyer can have strategies to resolve the case in their favor.
As with internet child porn defenses, a defense against online solicitation of a minor also can focus on entrapment. An undercover law officer may have posed as an underage child online and encouraged an adult to engage in online solicitation of a minor.
The court said that state law failed to identify “sexually explicit communications” and that admonitions against fantasy sex talk conflicted with Americans’ First Amendment right of free speech.
Other defenses against a charge of online solicitation of a minor include factual circumstances such as when the minor in question is the spouse of the defendant, or the minor was less than 3 years younger than the defendant and the minor consented.
Keep in mind that the age of consent (agreeing to sexual activity) in Texas is 17, so any child under 17 cannot legally consent.
Also keep in mind that if you never met the minor in question, that is not a defense against online solicitation. The crime lies in the act of communication, not the intended result.
You can face federal as well as state charges for child porn and for online solicitation of a minor. Federal punishments can be even more severe than Texas law provides, including years in prison and high fines.
We hope this overview of Internet sex crimes has helped you to see the vital need of engaging an experienced and knowledgeable sex crime defense lawyer.
Our law firm has decades of experience fighting for the legal rights of defendants in a variety of areas, including internet sex crimes such as possession of child porn and online solicitation of a minor. We know that many persons face such charges unfairly and deserve to have their legal rights protected.