Under Florida state law internet solicitation of a minor is a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison for each count that is charged. Sometimes the government will charge someone with multiple counts even though the person accused of the crimes was speaking to the same law enforcement officer during a series of chat room conversations.
Florida state law has also recently changed with respect to cases where the government alleges that the accused actually traveled any distance to meet a minor. It is now a 2nd degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison in these kind of cases.
The legislature has also made it clear that law enforcement officers can pretend to be minors online or on the phone and all the state has to prove is that the accused believed the other person was a minor.
Under Federal law, the government must essentially prove the same elements as they do in state court. The penalties, however, are much different. If someone is convicted of attempting to solicit, lure, or entice a minor to commit a sexual act in Federal court a 10 year minimum mandatory sentence applies. This means that a judge has no discretion to sentence a person convicted of internet solicitation of a minor to anything less than 10 years in Federal prison, and that is just the minimum. Often times, the Federal prosecutor will try to use various "enhancements" to try and get the judge to sentence people to even more prison time. On top of that, a period of supervised release (probation) is always imposed with a slew of restrictions. Finally, being labeled a sex offender is something the legislature has now mandated for people convicted in these kinds of cases.
Clearly the stakes are high in these kinds of cases. That's why a criminal lawyer who has experience successfully defending internet sex crimes is critical. There are a number of viable defenses to internet sex crime allegations.
It goes without saying that in order to convict someone of using a computer to lure, entice, or solicit a minor for sex the government has to prove that the person accused of the crime was the same person who was actually sitting in front of the keyboard. Raising doubts about the identity of the person can be a viable defense in these situations.
One of the most common occurrences in Saint Lucie is government entrapment. Law enforcement will often times cross the line during the chat room conversation by using trickery to get innocent citizens to type things they normally wouldn't have even considered typing.
Another situation that arises sometimes is fantasy chat. It is not illegal to have fantasies. Often times folks will engage in internet chat where one party pretends to be under the age of 18 to fulfill a particular fantasy. Law enforcement will often times rush to judgment in these kinds of scenarios and dismiss the reasonable possibility that this was the case.
Hiring a criminal lawyer who has vigorously and successfully employed these defenses is of utmost importance. You also want to hire a criminal attorney who practices in the jurisdiction where the person is being charged. The Law Office of Brian H. Mallonee is located near the State and Federal courthouses in downtown Fort Pierce which is in St. Lucie County, Florida. He also defends internet sex crimes in state and federal court that are charged out of the counties of Indian River (Vero Beach, Sebastian), Martin (Stuart, Palm City), Okeechobee, and Highlands (Sebring).
If you or someone you care about wants to talk to a board certified criminal trial lawyer about an internet sex crime allegation, contact Brian Mallonee at (772) 464-1991.
Brian Mallonee is a Criminal Defense Lawyer Serving St Lucie, Indian River, Martin, and Okeechobee Counties