201411.04
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Undercover Sting Operations on the Internet

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Ever seen Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” on TV?  The show documents undercover sting operations of people impersonating minor girls to catch adult males who try to set up sexual liaisons with the girls.  Once the man gets to the location to meet the girl, he immediately gets jumped and handcuffed.

Don’t think that only happens on TV.  Federal and state law enforcement agencies are cracking down on would-be sex offenders online.  The government is devotes tons of money, resources and energy into undercover sting operations, also known as “Bait & Switch” prosecutions.  Agents spend 24/7 trolling online pretending to be underage girls, deliberately luring men into talking about teenage sex and convincing them to meet up.

In Florida, the penalties for these crimes are extremely harsh, even for first-time offenders.  Traveling to Meet a Minor to Commit an Unlawful Sex Act is a second degree felony and carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and 15 years sex offender probation. The guidelines are 21 months, which means a person convicted of this crime will get at least 21 months in prison.  People can also be charged with multiple crimes for the same act, including Solicitation of a Child to Engage in Sexual Conduct and Unlawful Use of a Two-Way Communication Device.

It is not a defense that the person on the other end of the conversation was an adult and not really a child.  However, there are defenses to these types of crimes, including entrapment.  The government has to prove that the suspect was predisposed to commit the crime and wouldn’t have done it but for the actions of the undercover agent.  If there is no evidence showing that the suspect was the one who lured, solicited or enticed the child, then there is no case.  Only a skilled, experienced attorney will be able to successfully get charges dismissed on these grounds.  It’s important to fight these charges, because a conviction means having to register as a sex offender and being labeled for the rest of your life.

Be careful online!  If a cute, young girl contacts you online and tries to solicit a conversation, log off immediately.  There is a 99.9% chance that it’s a cop trying to lure you into a trap.

– Shannon Padgett, Esq.


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