Will I Get Jail Time if I Engage in Online Sexual Solicitation with an Undercover Police Officer in California?
In California, solicitation of a minor is a crime where someone engages in a conversation with a minor and then asks them to meet up for the sexual activity.
While there are several statutes that prosecutors could use to charge someone with unlawful online sexual solicitation, this type of crime is often called meeting a minor for lewd purposes defined under California Penal Code 288.4 PC.
If you are convicted of this felony crime, it's punishable by up to four years in a California state prison and a requirement to register as a sex offender.
The internet allows people to communicate anonymously, and chat rooms are a favorite target of undercover police stings looking for unlawful sexual solicitation.
Law enforcement will set up these stings to locate and apprehend men trying to arrange meetings with minors from chat rooms.
California law enforcement agencies consider these individuals' sexual predators and often use overly aggressive and unlawful tactics to catch them.
Our Los Angeles sex crime attorneys will review the most common laws below for more information.
Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes – PC 288.4
California Penal Code 288.4 PC makes it a crime to set up a meeting with a minor if it's motivated by an unnatural sexual interest in children.
This means just setting up a meeting with a primary purpose to engage in lewd or lascivious conduct could lead to criminal charges, even if no sexual activity ever occurred. Penal Code 288.4 PC states:
- “Anyone motivated by an unnatural sexual interest in a child, arranges a meeting with a minor, or whom they believe is a minor, with the intent of exposing their genitals or rectal area, or having the child expose theirs, or engages in lewd or lascivious behavior.”
In other words, PC 288.4 makes it illegal to arrange a meeting with a minor if you are motivated by a sexual interest to engage in sexual conduct. The actual “meeting” does not need to occur.
PC 288.4 arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes is a “wobbler” that can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony.
A misdemeanor conviction carries a sentence of up to a year in the county jail and a fine of up to $5,000. A felony conviction carries up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
If you have a prior conviction requiring PC 290 sex offender registration, the case will generally be filed as a felony. The prior convictions include crimes such as:
- Penal Code 261.5 PC statutory rape,
- Penal Code 243.4 PC sexual battery,
- Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure, and more.
You will also be required to register as a Penal Code 290 PC sex offender, which means an annual renewal at the local police station to confirm where you live.
Your information will be published on the California Megan's Law website, showing your name, picture, and address on the internet.
Sending Harmful Material to Seduce a Minor – PC 288.2
California Penal Code 288.2 PC makes it a crime to send or distribute harmful material of a sexual nature to a minor, which could occur over the internet or by mail.
Harmful material includes depicting a minor engaged in sexual contact. PC 288.2 states:
- “Anyone who knows, or should have known someone is a minor, knowingly sends using electronic communication, or in person, any harmful matter that depicts a minor engaging in sexual conduct with the intent of arousing or gratifying the passions or sexual desires.”
Penal Code 288.2 PC is also a wobbler, and a felony conviction carries up to three years in prison and a requirement to register as a sex offender.
Other related California sex crimes related to online sexual solicitation include the following:
- Penal Code 288.3 PC – contact minor to commit a felony,
- Penal Code 311 PC – child pornography,
- Penal Code 647.6 PC – child molestation,
- Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts with a minor,
- Penal Code 646.9 PC – cyberstalking.
Undercover Police Officers
This is a prevalent trap that undercover police officers are on the internet.
They're chatting with people on many of these websites and applications, basically posing as underage teenage girls and convincing people to set up meetings with them.
Of course, the meeting is to engage in some sexual activity, and then, of course, they arrest the person, and now the person has a criminal case pending against them.
So, suppose you or a loved one is charged with an online solicitation involving an undercover police officer. In that case, I think you must get an attorney right away because you're facing jail time. You're potentially facing prison time, depending on what you agreed to.
It's just amazing to me how somebody goes onto a website that says everybody has to be at least 18 years old, somehow, they start chatting with a person, set things up to meet with them, then all of a sudden, the undercover police officer tells them they're a 15-year old girl.
At that point, most people, you would think, would say, I can't do anything with you because you're underage, but instead, a lot of my clients agree to meet with the person.
That's where you get into problems. Now, prosecutors are viewing you as a predator — who's looking to try to be with a 15- or 16-year-old girl, and it's just outlandish some of the things that the prosecutors are seeing that these agents are doing and people are accepting it.
I shake my head that I can't believe that people agree to certain things and put themselves in a particular position that they probably normally wouldn't do.
What Factors Are Prosecutors Looking At?
I think you're looking at custody time. You're looking at potentially having to register as a sex offender, but I think it's less severe, in my opinion, than if you are dealing with a 15-year old girl. You set up a meeting with that 15-year old girl, and law enforcement gets their hands on you.
That, I think they perceive as much more dangerous because now you're dealing with a natural person.
Even though you think it's natural when talking to the undercover police officer, there is an argument. Still, somehow, the prosecutors seem to be a bit more lenient, especially if you don't have any criminal record and no prior sex-related offenses that have been alleged against you.
Defending Online Sexual Solicitation Cases
No matter how you slice it, though, if you engage in some conversation with an undercover police officer talking about any sexual activity with a minor, you should immediately pick up the phone and discuss the case with a criminal defense lawyer.
I've handled numerous sex-related offenses, and I've been involved since police officers were entrapping people on the internet, and that's not that long ago.
You have to know how to defend these cases, and if they have the goods on your client and they're going to be able to prove the case, you also have to be able to negotiate these cases.
So, you've come to the right place. Pick up the phone. Make the call. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you.
Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. Contact us at (213) 542-0979.