Many Texans are falsely accused of online solicitation of a minor every year. Often, the accused is charged after aggressive sting operations implemented by state and federal authorities.
Innocent people may be caught with the guilty in these widely case sting operation nets.
It’s easy for many folks to assume that a person accused of the online solicitation of a minor is guilty. That said, many good people are falsely accused of sex crimes, including sexual assault, child molestation, or sexual misconduct of a minor.
If you or someone you love has been falsely accused of online solicitation, realize you have the legal right to fight these charges. Don’t wait. Consult with an experienced sex crimes lawyer as soon as possible.
Online Solicitation of a Minor Punishments
Online solicitation of a minor [Texas Penal Code Section 33.021 (b)] is a serious offense. If convicted, the offender faces a third-degree felony as well as a two to 10-year prison term plus a maximum $10,000 fine if convicted of knowingly soliciting a minor individual younger than 17 years of age by text, email, or Internet message with the intention of making sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse.
These punishments may also apply if the defendant knowingly communicates with a minor individual (or an individual he or she believes is a minor person) in a sexually-explicit fashion (the manner in which he or she describes or alludes to sexual activities) or distributes sexually-explicit materials to a minor via electronic messages or over the Internet.
Online media and online solicitation
Online media facilitates the ability of individuals to connect with others. The growth of Internet communications includes text-messaging, message boards, websites, and chat rooms.
The ease of such communications has resulted in numerous cases in which adults are accused of intentionally soliciting sex with minors under the age of 17.
These sex crimes are considered offensive to the majority of the population. Almost everyone agrees that prosecutors should be tough on sex crime.
Sadly, prosecutors are sometimes more interested in the “win” of a case than in protection of the accused’s constitutional rights.
Prosecutors in Houston and throughout Texas take sex crimes very seriously. If you or someone you care about has been accused of online solicitation, you need the skills of an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately.
Reason for False Accusations
An intentional or unintentional false accusation may occur for many reasons. Some of the most common reasons individuals face false accusations include:
- Mistaken identity
- Ulterior motive
- Mental incapacity (the accused does not comprehend his or her actions)
- “Getting even” with an individual
- Rebellion against a teacher, authority figure, or parent
- Attempt to affect a court’s decision regarding child visitation or custody
- The act was consensual
An experienced sex crimes lawyer will immediately determine if one or more possibilities for false accusation are present. The process may include reviewing witness’ statements to identify gaps.
Falsely accused of online solicitation
If falsely accused and convicted of online solicitation of a minor, the offender must register as a sex offender in Texas. A sex crimes conviction remains on the offender’s permanent criminal record. The criminal record can also affect the offender’s ability to get employment, attend college or university, access financial aid, or find a place to live.
Online solicitation of a minor charges in Houston or Texas is likely to stain the defendant’s reputation. Even if it’s later proven to be untrue and the case never goes to trial, the accused faces loss of reputation and community standing.
People falsely accused of online solicitation of a minor are often accused by professional law enforcement agents who are guilty of entrapment. In other words, the agents trick individuals into committing an offense (when he or she would be unlikely to commit the offense under normal circumstances).
For this reason, entrapment is a possible defense to charges of online solicitation of a minor.
Each case is unique. An experienced Houston sex crimes lawyer will evaluate the facts and circumstances of the case to identify possible defenses, including the accused’s lack of intent to participate in sexual relations with a minor.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has previously declared that a portion of Texas Penal Code Section 33.021 (2005) is unconstitutional. The court found that the law fails to properly define sexually-explicit communications. When considering “fantasy sex talk,” the law goes against the individual’s First Amendment right to free speech.
Soliciting a Minor Online
Online solicitation is said to occur when an adult person transmits sexually-oriented materials over electronic media or engages in sexually-explicit communications to arouse or entice an individual younger than 17 years old.
A person may be charged with online solicitation of a minor in Texas if he or she demonstrates intent to commit the crime. Of course, the individual who participates in sexual interaction and/or intercourse with a minor child may also be charged.
The arrest of a person accused of online solicitation of a minor usually involves an undercover operation in which an investigator portrays a minor child. He or she gathers some evidence to establish a case against the accused.
Online Solicitation of a Minor Penalties
Online solicitation of a minor is generally considered a third-degree felony. In addition to a significant prison sentence and/or criminal fines, the individual faces:
- Required sex offender registration
- Inability to own firearms, vote, or hold a public office
- Inability to work in certain careers, e.g. education, day care, etc.
- Reputational damage or loss of relationships
The defendant may face public humiliation, harassment, suicidal thoughts, loss of child custody (or visitation), job search or retention difficulties, risk of homelessness, and more.
If the offender is accused of online solicitation of a child younger than 14 years of age, he or she faces a second-degree felony. If convicted, the offender faces a two to 20-year prison sentence and significant monetary fines.
Burden of Proof
Prosecutors must prove all elements of the case against the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution must also thoroughly prove the case. If the judge or jury remains uncertain of the facts of the case, the case may be dismissed or the charges against the defendant reduced.
Prosecutors must prove that the accused:
- Knowingly solicited a minor-age person (He or she had reason to believe that the individual was younger than 17 years old.)
- Purposefully suggested a meeting place to the minor individual for the purposes of sexual activity
- Intended to sexually gratify or arouse a minor child via electronic communications
- Initiated sexually-explicit contact with a minor individual (and proceeded to exert efforts to have sexual/physical contact with the minor)
Numerous defenses may be raised in an online solicitation case. The prosecution must also prove that the crime was committed and completed by the accused. If he or she was falsely accused or coerced, the court may drop the charges. The accused may have an affirmative defense.
Consequences of a False Accusation
Innocent people sometimes serve prison time. If convicted of a sex crime, he or she may face physical and/or sexual abuse and harassment behind bars. Because he or she must register as a sex offender, the abuse and harassment may continue for the rest of his or her life.
Mandatory sex offender registration can change the person’s life. He or she won’t have the option to pursue some occasions, enter military service, qualify for student loans, or make new relationships with ease.
Reform is Needed
Numerous groups acknowledge the need for reforms to prevent defendants from being wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project says that reform must cover: 1) forensic science (ensuring the proper and ethical handling of DNA evidence) and 2) promotion of innocence reforms at federal and state levels.
Because most citizens are inclined to believe that sex crime accusations are probably true, the public’s awareness must be raised about false accusations.
Those falsely accused must redouble efforts to assert their innocence. If you or someone you care about is facing any type of sex crime charges, don’t assume that because you’re innocent there’s nothing to hide.
Contact an Experienced Texas Sex Crimes Attorney
Invoke the right to remain silent. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp in Houston will protect your legal rights and do everything possible to preserve your freedom. Contact us at 713-868-6100 to request an initial case evaluation now.