What constitutes Online Solicitation of a Minor in Texas?
Under Texas Penal Code 33.021, the offense of Online Solicitation of a Minor can be committed several ways. First, it can be committed when an adult communicates in a “sexually explicit manner” with a minor or distributes sexually explicit material to a minor with the intent to commit a sexual offense. It can also be committed by soliciting a minor to meet for the purpose of engaging in sexual contact.
What is the potential punishment for Online Solicitation of a Minor?
Committing Online Solicitation of a Minor by communicating in a sexually explicit manner or distributing sexually explicit material with the intent to commit a sexual offense is a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison. If it is alleged that the minor is, or was believed to be, younger than 14, then it is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years. Online Solicitation of a Minor committed by soliciting a minor to meet for the purpose of engaging in sexual contact is a second-degree felony, regardless of the age of the child. If you plead guilty, it is possible to receive a deferred adjudication probation in an Online Solicitation case before trial. If you are convicted at trial, it is possible to receive probation from a judge or jury. Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 62.101, Online Solicitation of a Minor is subject to sex offender registration for 10 years from the date a person is finished with probation or released from prison.
How are Online Solicitation of a Minor cases investigated and charged?
In the Houston area, the majority of Online Solicitation of a Minor cases are the result of police stings where an undercover officer will pose as a minor and attempt to speak with men on online forums. In these chats, the undercover officer will make clear what age the undercover officer is representing herself as, and eventually encourage the defendant to meet for sexual contact. Typically, when the defendant arrives for the meeting, he is arrested. Less commonly, Online Solicitation of a Minor cases are filed after parents report a son or daughter’s sexually explicit communications through social media with an adult.
What should I do if I am under investigation for Online Solicitation of a Minor in Texas?
If you believe you are under investigation for Online Solicitation of a Minor, it is critical that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. Although many people charged with Online Solicitation of a Minor are not subject to a lengthy investigation period, it is possible that you will receive a visit or phone calls from law enforcement, particularly where the police lack some type of evidence to file charges. Whatever the offense you are charged with, you always have the absolute right to remain silent and most criminal defense lawyers will advise you to exercise that right.
As noted above, Online Solicitation of a Minor is an offense that requires electronic communications of some sort sent to a minor. In some cases, the police may call you to get you to admit that a telephone number or social media account belongs to you, as this may be something they may have to prove in your case. The police are very good at appearing to be on your side, insisting that they just “want to clear something up.” Do not fall for this trap. Put simply, if the police have enough evidence to charge you with Online Solicitation of a Minor, or any other offense, they will do so regardless of what you say. If they lack necessary evidence, then by speaking with the police, you risk giving them whatever evidence they were lacking.
What are some defenses to Online Solicitation of a Minor?
There are two defenses explicitly recognized by the Online Solicitation statute. The first is that the actor was married to the minor. The second defense – which is raised far more frequently – is that the defendant was not more than three years older than the minor and the minor consented to the conduct.
Although an age difference of more than three years is the limit of what is legally recognized, slightly bigger age differences may still amount to a defense in the context of a grand jury packet hearing the evidence in an Online Solicitation of a Minor case. A grand jury is a group of citizens that meet in private to decide whether enough evidence exists to indict a case. A grand jury can consider just about anything when deciding whether to indict a case. A grand jury may be unwilling to indict a case if the defendant, for example, is a teenager or in his early 20s and the alleged victim is an older teenager or lied about her age. Although a complaining witness lying about her age is not an explicit defense under Texas law, many grand jurors are reluctant to indict cases where lying took place and the ages of the complaining witnesses were not too different.
Intent is often an issue in Online Solicitation of a Minor cases, particularly those alleging soliciting a minor to meet for the purpose of sexual contact. The statute requires that the defendant actually had the intent for the meeting to take place at the time the solicitation was made. So, if the solicitation was made as a part of a fantasy or role-playing, that may be a legitimate defense. It is important to remember that it doesn’t matter if the meeting took place or if the defendant later changed his mind about meeting up. If there was intent at the time the communication was made, legally the offense has been committed.
Depending on the facts of the case, it may be possible that the defendant was not the one who sent the electronic communications. However, usually, before charges are filed, the police take steps to make sure this element can be proven.
What bond conditions can I expect if I am charged with Online Solicitation?
Bond conditions for Online Solicitation of a Minor cases will vary greatly by county and by judge. In the Greater Houston area, judges may limit a defendant’s internet usage, impose travel restrictions, or in extreme cases, order a defendant to wear a GPS device. Even where the facts of the case do not indicate that drugs or alcohol were involved in the offense, many judges in the Houston area will order drug and alcohol testing. Your attorney can advocate on your behalf to make the bond conditions less intrusive.
How can a criminal defense attorney help me obtain the best possible result in an Online Solicitation of a Minor case?
A criminal defense attorney should aggressively challenge all of the evidence in an Online Solicitation of a Minor case. In order to be able to effectively do this, your criminal defense attorney should have a firm grasp of the facts and of the law. The goals are always to avoid jail time, a felony conviction, and sex offender registration. However, no attorney can guarantee what will happen in your case, since the facts are not within an attorney’s control. As a result, an effective criminal defense attorney will work towards a dismissal while working to “soften the blow” of a conviction. Where a case can’t be dismissed, it may be possible to get a case reduced to an offense not requiring sex offender registration, or maximize a defendant’s chances at probation. At Ceja Law Firm, we regularly work with sex therapists in the Houston area who can be utilized to show that a defendant charged with Online Solicitation of a Minor is unlikely to re-offend and does not fit the profile of sexual predators.
Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor with over a decade of experience defending all types of sex crimes. He has achieved outstanding results for his clients including “not guilty” verdict, grand jury “no bills” and dismissals. If you are charged with Online Solicitation of a Minor anywhere in the Greater Houston area, Mr. Ceja would be happy to meet with you for free to discuss your case.