Solicitation is the asking, requesting, commanding, hiring, or encouraging of a person to commit a crime. It is considered an online solicitation of a minor in Texas when someone uses the Internet to arrange an offline meeting to engage in sexual behavior. Due to the relative ease of getting a conviction, the crime has become more popular with law enforcement.
The officers and prosecutors often shame and humiliate the person accused in an attempt to get them to admit guilt or incriminate themselves before they have exercised their right to consult a lawyer.
Juries often impose harsh sentences based on moral outrage.
A lawyer with specialized knowledge and expertise is needed in online solicitation cases.
How Does Texas Define “Minor”?
Anyone under the age of 17 is considered a minor. In addition, it refers to anyone who is believed to be 17 or younger by the defendant.
An arrest under this statute almost always occurs after an elaborate sting operation involving an undercover officer posing as a child. In recent years, law enforcement officers have become much better at collecting evidence against the accused using these sting operations. In addition, the statute has been designed to eliminate some of the most common explanations offered by the accused to show that they had no intention of carrying out the act.
Does Online Solicitation Include Sending Sexually Explicit Pictures?
Yes. Sexual contact with a minor, deviant sexual intercourse, or sexual intercourse is all prohibited under this law. It also prohibits any communication, material, or language related to sexual conduct. Examples include:
- Video images
- Descriptions of sexual conduct
- Photographic images
I Didn’t Solicit Anyone on the Internet. Why am I Charged with this Crime?
The solicitation does not have to take place only on the Internet. An individual can be accused of online solicitation if the communication was made through:
- Text message
- Electronic mail
- Electronic messaging service/system
- Commercial online service
What Is the Charge for Online Solicitation of a Minor?
Online Solicitation of a Minor is charged as a third-degree felony. If convicted, the defendant could face 2 to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. But if the minor was under 14 years old or the defendant believed they were under 14, it is a second-degree felony. The punishment for a conviction of a second-degree felony is 2 to 20 years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000.
In addition, a conviction could result in a criminal record. A person convicted of online solicitation of a minor in Texas could also face:
- Limitations of employment professions
- Inability to receive government assistance
- An inability to enroll in certain educational institutions
- Loss of the right to own a firearm
Is It a Defense If I Wasn’t Serious About the Meeting Actually Taking Place?
No, it’s not a defense if the defendant didn’t plan for the meeting to happen. Likewise, it’s not a defense if:
- The meeting didn’t take place;
- The “victim” was not 17 years old or younger;
- The defendant was partaking in a fantasy at the time the crime occurred
What Are Defenses to Online Solicitation in Texas?
This charge can be defended. Marriage between the minor and the defendant is one defense. Another defense is if there was a three-year difference or less between the defendant and minor, and the minor consented.
It is not a defense to prosecution for online solicitation of a minor if:
- The defendant did not intend for the meeting to take place;
- There was no meeting; or
- At the time of the offense, the defendant was immersed in fantasy
Sting Operations for Soliciting a Child
Many of these sting operations involve adults talking in chat rooms with people they believe are consenting adults. However, the other individual might be an employee of a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency. At some point, the other person mentions being a minor. Some of these individuals arrested for online solicitation of a minor do not intend to have sex with a child.
Other times, officers aggressively target a person to convince them to commit a crime they are not predisposed to commit. Many of these cases can be defended by claiming entrapment.
Challenges to the Constitutionality of the Statute
Texas lawmakers drafted the online solicitation statute very broadly. It has been challenged on several constitutional grounds. Criminal defense attorneys can challenge the statute’s constitutionality by attacking it as applied to the defendant or on its face.
Many of the issues with the statute’s constitutionality have to do with the elimination of factors showing no intent to solicit the child. Subsection (d) of the § 33.021 states that it is not a defense to prosecution under subsection (c) that either:
- The meeting did not occur
- The actor did not intend for the meeting to occur
- The actor was engaged in a fantasy at the time of the commission of the offense
The purpose of the statute is to criminalize “the conduct of an adult, who, with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person, uses an electronic message or online service to intentionally communicate in a sexually explicit manner with or distribute sexually explicit materials to a minor,” according to Texas Penal Code Annotated 33.021(b).
The purpose of the statute was to allow law enforcement officers to investigate and arrest sexual predators while still grooming the child, but before they actually injured it. By making the statute so broad, innocent people can be caught up in sting operations. It may be important to challenge the statute on its face and as applied when prosecutors use the broad language of the statute to prosecute an innocent person.
Do I Have to Register as a Sex Offender?
Suppose someone is charged under Section (b) of this statute. In that case, the offense is a third-degree felony unless the minor is under the age of 14 (or if the accused person believed the person being talked to was under 14), in which case the penalty is enhanced to a second-degree felony. Under Section (c), the penalty is a second-degree felony.
Even if you plead guilty or no contest to Online Solicitation of a Minor, you will be required to register as a sex offender after being convicted. Even deferred adjudication plea bargains require you to register.
Only One Section of this Offense Talks About Being Over 17. If I am a Minor, Can I be Charged?
The statute specifically mentions an offense for those over 17 years old, but the second section does not mention age. The second section has no specific age limit, so all ages are presumed to be covered. Minors may not be charged under the first second because they are under 17, but they might be charged under the second. The second section does not have an age requirement.
Should I Talk to a Lawyer About Other Possible Defenses Available to Me?
You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been arrested for online solicitation of a minor. A Texas criminal lawyer will evaluate your case, let you know what possible defenses are available to you, and discuss any possible reduction or dismissal of this criminal charge.