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How Are Online Solicitation Cases Defended in Texas

Online solicitation is a very serious offense in Texas. If you are charged with online solicitation you need to speak with an experienced and aggressive attorney immediately.

Under Texas law, online solicitation can be committed in several ways. First, a person who is 17 years of age or older commits the offense by communicating through the Internet or electronic means in a sexually explicit manner with a minor or distributing sexually explicit material to a minor. If you are accused of either of these acts, you are facing a third-degree felony, although you will be facing a second-degree felony if the young person is, or believed to be, under 14.

Online solicitation can also be committed by communicating with a minor via electronic means for the purposes of engaging in sexual activity, which is a second-degree felony. A conviction for any variation of online solicitation carries mandatory 10-year sex offender registration, which begins after a potential prison sentence or probation is finished.

Most online solicitation cases filed in the Greater Houston area involve stings. Very often, an undercover police officer will pose as a child in an online chat room and initiate or respond to a communication with an adult.  The conversation will turn sexual and a meeting will be arranged. When the suspect arrives at the meeting location, officers will arrest him or her.

As in all criminal cases, your criminal defense attorney must first obtain the evidence. In a typical online solicitation case filed in the Houston area, this will include an offense report, body camera videos, recording, and transcripts of text messages or online conversations. Until your criminal defense lawyer has all of the evidence, he won’t be able to evaluate the case and determine what the best strategy is.

Cases involving police stings can be difficult to defend because very often a paper trail exists with evidence of the communications that form the basis of the State’s case. However, there are many defenses that have been successfully been raised in online solicitation cases.

Under the statute, it is a defense to an online solicitation that the suspect was married to the minor (As you can imagine, this is an uncommon defense and I am not aware of any cases in the Houston area where this defense was raised). It is also a defense that the suspect was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct. Even where the suspect was more than three years older than the minor, sometimes a smaller difference in age can be used as a defense in a Grand Jury Proceeding.

For example, if a 19-year-old suspect is having a sexually explicit conversation with a 15-year-old, a Grand Jury can sometimes be convinced to not indict a case (a so-called “no-bill”), especially if the minor lied about her age or was more sexually aggressive. Grand Jury packets allow defense attorneys to raise defenses that are not recognized defenses under the law. For example, it is not a defense that a minor lied about her age, but a Grand Jury can take this into account when deciding whether or not to indict a case. Often, a criminal defense attorney will submit evidence that a child lied, was sexually aggressive, along with other evidence, such as a polygraph examination, stating, for example, that a defendant was truthful when he said the child was older than she says she was. At Ceja Law Firm, we frequently convince Grand Juries in the Houston area to “no bill” our client’s cases. This article discusses Grand Jury Packets in detail.

Theoretically, the defense of entrapment is available in an online solicitation case, but it would be difficult to use in practice. Under Texas Penal Code 8.06 it is a defense to prosecution that a suspect engaged in conduct because he was induced to do saw by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense. Most likely, such a defense would be raised at trial, but it is difficult to imagine that a jury would be willing to agree that whatever the child said would be enough to cause regular persons to attempt to engage in sexual activity with a child.

Whatever the factual scenario, an experienced, creative criminal defense attorney should work to find an angle in the case. The stakes are huge in online solicitation cases and it is important that your attorney do anything possible to protect your freedom and reputation. If you or a loved one is charged with Online Solicitation anywhere in the Greater Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. Call today to schedule a free consultation.