I am seeing a lot of cases now where people are interacting with minors on the internet and then transferring that interaction to their cell phones and various other devices to be used to communicate.
If you're communicating with somebody underage in any sexual manner, where you're sending photographs or the other person is sending pictures; you're instructing that person to touch themselves in any way, and you videotape, take pictures, or record, you're potentially facing years in prison and a lifetime of registration as a sex offender.
California law also prohibits someone from arranging a meeting with a minor if the meeting is motivated by sexual interest in the minor and to engage in lewd or lascivious conduct.
We have also handled cases where someone was charged with arranging a meeting with a minor for sex in violation of California Penal Code 288.4 PC, which defines this sexual-related crime as follows:
- “Any person motivated by an abnormal sexual interest in children arranges a meeting with a minor to expose their genitals, pubic, rectal area, or having the child do the same, or engage in lewd or lascivious behavior.”
This is a serious charge, and the prosecutors will attempt to put you in prison and have you register as a sex offender. Our California sex crime defense lawyers will explain this topic in more detail below.
Meeting Minors for Lewd Purposes
The internet and social media provide a form of anonymous communication. Internet chat rooms are the primary targets for undercover police sting operations seeking sexual predators.
Every law enforcement in Los Angeles County considers these cases seriously and will aggressively investigate all credible allegations. Police will typically pose as an underage person in a chat room to engage people in illegal activity, including arranging a meeting to engage in sex.
Police will lie in chat rooms about who they are and why they are there. Their goal is to identify and arrest people they believe are sexual predators.
They will make up stories and use images of minors to arrange a meeting. Their tactics usually are legally allowed, but there are situations where police go too far in their pursuit of catching alleged sex offenders.
What Are the Penalties for Penal Code 288.4?
Arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes is a “wobbler” that the prosecutor can file as a misdemeanor or felony. Their decision is based on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's prior criminal history. If the defendant is convicted of a misdemeanor, the legal penalties include:
- up to one year in county jail, and
- a fine of up to $5,000.
Suppose the defendant has prior convictions requiring them to register as a California sex offender or attend the meeting with the minor they arranged. In that case, the case will be filed as a felony crime. If convicted of a felony offense, the legal penalties include:
- 16 months to 4 years in a California state prison, and
- a fine up to $10,000.
Either type of conviction will subject the defendant to the sex offender registration requirement under California Penal Code Section 290.
This means they will be required to register annually with law enforcement to confirm their residence. Megan's Law website might publish the defendant's name, picture, and address on the internet. As far as what type of punishment you're facing for other similar types of sex charges, it is going to depend on:
- how old the minor is and how old you are?
- what type of activity is going on?
- are you sending photos back and forth, nude photographs?
So, you're facing prison time and a lifetime of registration, but it will depend on precisely what you do.
What Are the Best Legal Defenses?
I've heard all sorts of excuses for why people are doing this. For example, while I was on a site that was 18 years old or older, I didn't think the person was under 18.
Then I found out that the person sent the client a message indicating they were under 18, and when you look at that person's photograph or video, you can tell the person is under the age of 18.
So, sometimes people are in this dream world of their own making where they believe that they can bring up excuses that somehow law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and maybe even a jury will buy it. You cannot communicate with a minor in any way for purposes of any sexual gratification.
If you or a loved one is charged with any internet crime involving a minor, you will need an attorney who has experience. Sometimes, there are innocent reasons why people do things. Other times, there's not.
Also, you have to factor in levels of activity. The more involved somebody is with a minor, the younger the minor is, and the more likely that person will be facing sex registration and prison time.
Perhaps we can argue that your motivation for arranging the meeting was not due to a sexual interest in minors. Maybe we can say police entrapment, meaning you were induced to commit a crime you would otherwise not have committed.
If guilt is not in doubt, we've got to develop a mitigation plan and tell your side of the story. Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges with lesser penalties. Just an allegation that you were involved in a sexually related crime with a minor can devastatingly impact your personal and professional life.
So, if you or a loved one is charged with any internet crime involving a minor, you've come to the right place. I've been doing this for almost 30 years, handling thousands of cases similar to what you're facing.
Pick up the phone now. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you. The Los Angeles-based Hedding Law Firm offers a free case consultation by phone or by filling out the contact form.