Can You Be Arrested for Engaging in Illegal Sex-Related Communications with Undercover Police?
This happens all the time on the internet where people are talking to an individual, either in a chat room or sexting somehow or some other form of communication. It turns out to be a police officer.
Often, I see going on that the person pretends to be a regular individual, and then they switch at the last minute. Typically, right when some photos are going to be sent, or there will be some meeting, and they tell the individual that they're under the age of 18.
That individual still proceeds and decides to meet or communicate with that person and asks them for nude photographs or send naked pictures, and that's the crime.
So, the answer is absolute. The police can pretend to be someone underage, and absolutely, you can be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for a sex-related offense if:
- you are told and believe that you're communicating with somebody under the age of 18, and
- you agree to engage in some sexual activity -- meet with the person to have sex, exchange nude photographs, whatever the case may be.
This is one of the big weapons that the police have now to catch individuals on the internet who are engaging in this type of conduct. Our California sex crime defense lawyers will further review the laws below.
Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes - Penal Code 288.4 PC
This statute addresses attempted sexual misconduct commonly arising from police internet “stings,” where the police impersonate a minor. California Penal Code 288.4 PC defines the crime of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes:
- “Anyone who, motivated by an unnatural sexual interest in children, arranges a meeting with a minor to expose their genitals or pubic or rectal area, or engage in lewd or lascivious behavior.”
Put simply, it's illegal just to arrange a meeting with a minor to engage in lewd behavior.
Arranging the meeting could occur in many forms, such as a chat room or posting on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
The penalties for arranging a meeting with a minor will depend on the severity of the crime and the defendant's criminal history.
If convicted of a misdemeanor PC 288.4, the penalties will include:
- up to one year in county jail,
- a $5,000 fine, and r
- registration as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290.
However, if the defendant has a prior conviction or showed up at the location, the prosecution will file the case as a felony crime that carries the following:
- up to four years in a California state prison,
- a $5,000 fine, and
- lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Contacting a Minor with Intent to Commit a Felony – Penal Code 288.3
Under this statute, it's illegal to communicate with a minor to commit a crime, usually some type of sexual-related activity. To be convicted of violating PC 288.3, the prosecutor will have to prove several different elements of the crime, including:
- defendant contacted or attempted, to make contact with a minor,
- when they acted, they planned to commit a specific crime with minor,
- defendant knew, or should have known, the person was a minor.
The California sex crimes that are included under Penal Code 288.3 PC include the following:
- Penal Code 288 PC - lewd acts with a child under 14,
- Penal Code 288.2 PC - send harmful matter to a minor,
- Penal Code 288a - oral copulation with a minor,
- Penal Code 261 PC - oral copulation by force or fear, rape,
- Penal Code 289 PC - forcible acts sexual penetration,
- Penal Code 286 PC – sodomy,
- Penal Code 311 – child pornography,
These laws are enforced through internet sting operations involving undercover officers who pretend to be minors.
The Unfairness of Police Internet Stings
One thing I don't like. I don't think it's fair. These police officers are in different chat rooms, applications, and mediums for 18 and above. They are talking to people, and the people have not said anything about underage, and all of a sudden, the police bring that up to capture the person.
Some of my clients don't even believe that the person they're talking to is under 18, yet somehow they continue to speak to them after telling them that. They end up getting arrested and convicted of a sex-related severe offense a lot of times.
Retain a Lawyer Immediately
The bottom line is if you've been caught up in one of these webs -- one of these traps -- where the police have communicated with you and you either want to meet with somebody, or you sent some photographs, or you received some pictures. The person says they are underage; you need to get an attorney right away.
Please don't talk to them anymore, and don't get yourself in a position where somebody can try to extort money from you because you engage in one of these illegal moves in communicating with the police.
You need to hire an attorney right away, give the attorney all of the facts and details, be honest with them, and then let them advise you. Let them tell you what they think you should do. Let them handle the case and make the moves for you.
Often, people think they're smarter than anybody else, including the police and their attorney, and they decide they want to handle it themselves. The next thing you know, they end up in a situation where they're arrested. They're complaining about being charged, yet they're facing jail time, sex registration, and all of the other horrible consequences that go along with a sex crime.
Developing a Strategy to Fight the Charges
So, the bottom line is this. Number one, don't ever put yourself in the first place by communicating over the internet with someone who says they're underage for purposes of any sexual conduct.
Number two, if you've done that, get yourself an attorney right away. Hire them, pay them, let them handle it. I've been doing this for almost 30 years. I've worked for the District Attorney's office, so I've seen how they prosecute sex-related offenses.
I've also worked for a Superior Court judge, so I've got that view, and then since 1994, I've been a criminal defense attorney defending people just like you.
I've been down this road before. I know how to handle it. I know the pitfalls. I know what can be done to mitigate the circumstances, and I know how to defend the case.
If you're being investigated for a sex crime, or you've been charged and arrested for a sex crime, pick up the phone. Make the call and ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you. Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County, and we offer a free case evaluation.