What is online solicitation of a minor in Texas?Online Solicitation of a Minor is a felony offense in Texas that occurs when an adult communicates online with a person who is actually under 17 (a minor) or someone whom the adult believes is under 17 (law enforcement posing as a minor) and:
- has a sexually explicit conversation, or
- sends a sexually explicit photo or video, or
- asks to meet the minor to engage in sexual contact.
What is the Punishment for Online Solicitation of a Minor in Fort Worth?Online solicitation of a minor is a felony offense in Texas that carries significant consequences including prison time, hefty fines, and registration as a sex offender. Online solicitation of a minor is generally a third-degree felony with a punishment range of 2 to 10 years in prison. However online solicitation of a minor under the age of 14 is a second-degree felony and the punishment range is 2 to 20 years in prison. There are two ways a person can be charged with online solicitation of a minor:
- Under Penal Code Section 33.021(b): A person commits an offense by using the internet to communicate in a sexually explicit manner with a minor or distribute sexually explicit material to a minor. Sexually explicit means any communication, language, or material, including a photographic or video image, that relates to or describes sexual conduct. This conversation is a third-degree felony if the minor is 14 or over. It’s a second-degree felony if the minor is under 14.
- Under Section 33.021(c): A person commits an offense if they use the internet to knowingly solicit a minor to meet with the intent that the minor would engage in sexual contact, sexual intercourse or deviate sexual intercourse. This is a second-degree felony regardless of whether the minor was under 14 or not. It does not matter whether or not the meeting occurred or even if the accused intended for the meeting to occur.
Who is a Minor for Purposes of Online Solicitation?The Texas Penal Code defines a minor as:
- Any person that represents themselves as being under the age of 17 when the crime was committed.
- Any person that the defendant believed was under the age of 17 when the crime was committed.
Federal Prosecution for Online Solicitation of a MinorWhile most online solicitation cases are filed at the state-level, it is possible for the feds to charge someone for the same conduct – whether or not the state prosecutes the conduct. Pursuant to 18 USC 2242 using the internet to entice someone younger than 18 is punishable by 10 years to life in federal prison.
Online Solicitation Sting OperationsPolice are allowed to, and do, lie during these investigations. For instance, if you ask the person on the other end of a chat if they are law enforcement, chances are they are not going to say yes. Additionally, the law does not require that the alleged victim be a minor; it can be a police officer posing as a minor. Arrests often take place when the person goes out to meet the alleged victim at a park or parking lot, but even in instances where the person never leaves home, officers can obtain internet service provider records to determine the identity or the location of the person engaged in the conversation and follow up with a subpoena that often leads to incriminating evidence and confessions.
An Example of Online Solicitation of a MinorThe following example is fictional, but it is a conversation that we’ve seen hundreds of times: A police officer or other law enforcement agent gets on an app like Whisper, YikYak, and Kik or websites like Craigslist (back when personal ads were still allowed) and posts a message that baits responses. During these conversations, law enforcement will say they are some age under 17. (Note: If they say they are under 14, the punishment range doubles). Many of these conversations result in the suspect sending photos of themselves to the law enforcement agent, which will later be used against the suspect. The conversations also often lead to a meet up – which is not necessary for the agents to prove their case – but they love intercepting individuals who agree to meet up. For those who don’t meet up, police will issue administrative subpoenas to get the IP addresses related to the accounts, usernames, or devices. When the online solicitation of a minor arrest occurs – be it at the intercept or based on an arrest warrant obtained months later – law enforcement is adept at pressuring individuals to the point their lives seem to be flashing before their eyes. These interrogations often lead to individuals confessing to crimes. A common police tactic is to suggest the individual sitting in front of them is a suspected pedophile who they believe has touched young children. That suggestion makes the person in the hot seat much more likely to say, “No! I never did that. The most I’ve ever done is chat.” Little does the suspect know that’s all law enforcement suspected. Confessions do not make prosecutors’ cases slam dunks in every situation, but they sure can make their jobs easier in many cases. Another way the prosecution can prove online solicitation is by proving explicit materials – such as a photo or video – was sent to the minor. The online solicitation statute is so broad that it has been challenged successfully in the past. The most recent revision came in 2015 after the Court of Criminal Appeals determined the statutory language was too broad. The statute explicitly removes a defense that the meeting with a minor or purported minor did not occur. Instead, certain portions of the statute criminalize mere conversations.
Defenses to Online SolicitationIn Texas, it not a defense to online solicitation of a minor if:
- the meeting did not occur;
- the accused did not mean for a meeting to occur;
- the actor was only fantasizing about the meeting occurring.
Do Convictions Result in Sex Offender Registration?Individuals who enter a plea of guilty or are found guilty of Online Solicitation of a Minor will be required to register as a sex offender for a period of 10 years. Even if they are placed on deferred adjudication or straight probation, they will be required to register as a sex offender. If you or a loved one is facing charges of online solicitation of a minor in Texas, it’s imperative that you contact a seasoned defense attorney who is experienced in these types of case. The stakes are too high to leave anything to chance.
Contact us for Online Solicitation of a Child ChargesHave you or a loved one been accused of online solicitation of a minor in Fort Worth? Call us today for a complimentary strategy session.
No. The law does not require a defendant to know the age of the minor, if the person the defendant was speaking to was actually a minor.
Electronic communication includes any online communication including email, text messages, instant messaging, and social media platforms.
Yes, you can be charged based solely on electronic communication with the intent to engage in sexual activity or based on sending sexually explicit content.
Yes, online solicitation of a minor can also be charged as a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 2422. Penalties for a federal conviction can be severe, including up to life imprisonment in some cases.
Yes, law enforcement often uses sting operations to catch individuals soliciting minors online. However, entrapment can be a defense if the officers induced the crime.
No, a person can be charged even if the “minor” was an undercover law enforcement officer or a fictional persona created by law enforcement.