Online solicitation of a minor is an offense that is regularly filed in the Greater Houston area. If you are charged with Online Solicitation, you need an experienced, aggressive criminal defense attorney to defend you. The potential consequences of a conviction can include prison time and registration as a sex offender.
The offense of online solicitation can be committed in several ways. First, it can be committed by communicating in a “sexually explicit manner” with a minor or distributing sexually explicit material with a minor. These acts make the offense a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years. However, if the minor is under 14, then the offense becomes a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-10 years.
The offense of online solicitation can also be committed by soliciting a minor to meet a person by electronic means with the intent that the minor has sexual intercourse with another person. In the Greater Houston area, this is the more common way the offense of Online Solicitation is charged. Online Solicitation cases are also filed against defendants who meet underage girls – often through social media sites like Instagram – and send sexually explicit material or make plans to meet up for sexual contact. Law enforcement agencies can easily obtain records of the chats and will attempt to identify the adult.
Many Online Solicitation cases are the result of police stings initiated by agencies such as the Houston Police Department. In these stings, a law enforcement officer will pose as a teenager (typically between the ages of 13-15) and attempt to entice men to agree to meet for sex or, less commonly, share sexually explicit material. When the suspect arrives at the agreed-upon meeting location, the police will promptly arrest the person.
If you are convicted or placed on a deferred adjudication for Online Solicitation, you will have to complete 10 years of sex offender registration after your probation is complete. As you can imagine, sex offender registration can be embarrassing and have devastating consequences for a person’s employment prospects and even make it difficult to find a place to live.
Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical to obtaining the best possible result in an Online Solicitation case. The first step will be to obtain the evidence. In a typical Online Solicitation case, this includes the record of social media chats, text messages, police offense reports, and witness statements.
The exact nature of the defense will depend on the facts. In certain cases, preparing a grand jury packet might be a good idea to get a dismissal of an Online Solicitation case. A grand jury packet is a set of documents provided to the grand jury in an attempt to convince the grand jury to not indict a case. The sole function of a grand jury is to listen to evidence in a case and decide whether probable cause exists.
A full discussion of a grand jury packet is beyond the scope of this article, but in an Online Solicitation case, you usually want facts that would make the members of the grand jury feel it would be unjust for a case to go any further. For example, if a minor misleads a defendant about her age (and the defendant was not inappropriately old), that might be a case to consider filing a grand jury packet. Grand jury packets should be used sparingly because the risk is always “showing your hand” to the prosecution and getting nothing in return. In the Greater Houston area, I have often signed on to cases where a grand jury packet was filed in a case where it should have been obvious that it would not work, and you would be revealing too much about your defense.
Because the crime of Online Solicitation does not require an actual meeting or sexual act to take place, other possible defenses are usually limited to mistaken identity (in other words, that the defendant was not the one sending the messages), or that there was no actual intent for a meeting to take place (in other words, that the conversation was just role-playing or fantasy).
The reality is that the facts will be against certain defendants in Online Solicitation cases. An experienced criminal defense attorney knows that sometimes the best way to help a client is by preparing mitigation evidence to lessen a potential sentence. In the Houston area, there are several therapists with experience working with sex cases that can prepare evaluations with people accused of sex crimes to show that a defendant does not fit the profile of a sex offender and is unlikely to re-offend. In cases where the facts are strongly against a defendant, sometimes the goal is to advocate on behalf of the client and try and get probation and possibly to avoid sex offender registration.
Experience is critical in Online Solicitation cases. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to accurately evaluate the State’s case and help a client make an informed decision as to whether to file a grand jury packet, whether to plea, or whether to go to trial. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will also be able to prepare a mitigation case to help a client get a reduced sentence in the event the facts are not in our favor. If you are charged with Online Solicitation or any sex crime in the Greater Houston area, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. He is a former prosecutor and has obtained acquittals and grand jury “no bills” in sex cases.