Child enticement, also sometimes referred to as solicitation of a minor, is an offense involving a person under age 18. In legal terms, child enticement may also be called meeting up with a minor for lewd purposes or online solicitation of a minor.
Federal charges for child enticement are typically brought against a defendant who is accused of engaging in a conversation with a minor that may or may not lead to a meeting for the purpose of partaking in sexual activity such as sexual fondling or intercourse.
What Is Child Enticement?
The legal definition of enticement is knowingly persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing another individual in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution or any other sexual activity for which that person could be charged with a criminal offense.
Under the law, the targeted victim doesn’t have to follow through by committing the sexual acts. The perpetrator can still be charged for even attempting to lead a victim into such a situation.
Defendants accused of child enticement are charged with inviting, persuading, or attempting to convince a minor to enter a private space with the intention of engaging in unlawful sexual contact or sexual assault.
The age-old example of a stranger offering a child candy or ice cream in order to lure them into a vehicle with the intention of sexually assaulting them is just one scenario. Today, it’s more often an adult who grooms the child online before suggesting they meet up in person for sex.
Child enticement charges can be brought even if the defendant and intended victim never actually met in person and no physical contact was made. Simply asking a minor to engage in sex is enough to file charges, and a person can be charged even if he or she merely believed that the victim was a minor.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Accused of Child Enticement?
Crimes involving sexual relationships with minors are often aggressively prosecuted and severely punished. The penalties for enticement can include lengthy federal prison sentences and hefty fines. Being falsely accused of a sex crime, especially one against a minor, has the ability to destroy lives and reputations.
A conviction can mean mandatory lifetime registration as a sexual offender, which can limit the careers a person can pursue and the locations where he or she can live. It may also ruin relationships with family and friends and tarnish an individual’s reputation in their community.
If you have reason to believe that you may be under investigation for crimes related to child enticement, you need to secure the legal representation of an experienced federal criminal defense attorney before speaking with investigators. When your freedom and reputation are on the line, seek out Nebraska’s skilled criminal defense team at Berry Law.
How Have Electronics Changed Child Enticement Laws?
As the internet and other electronic technology became more accessible and part of the public’s daily life, the federal government began responding to an increasing number of reports that children were being victimized by adults online.
In many cases, the adult was previously unknown to the child, but there were also instances in which adults known to children in real life were using electronics to groom them before pursuing a sexual relationship. As a result, arrests for internet sex crimes against children tripled over a 10-year period in the early 2000s.
With 95% of youth ages 12-17 reporting that they have an online presence, and 80% of those saying that they are active on social media accounts, the opportunity for interaction between minors and adults is plentiful. More adults than ever are using the internet and other electronic means as a form of communication to meet and seduce underage children and adolescents into sexual encounters to which they can cannot legally consent.
Is Child Enticement a Federal or State Crime?
Enticement of a child through the use of an electronic device can be prosecuted at both the state and federal levels. This is because that while enticing a minor with the intention of engaging in sexual relations is what triggers the state to prosecute, it’s the use of the federal mail system, including any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce (such as the internet) that is a crime against the federal government.
The use of electronic devices to knowingly entice any person under 18 years of age to engage in sexual activity or attempting to do so is a federal crime. These electronic devices can include:
- Cell phones
- Internet communication via tablets and computers
- Network servers
- Chat rooms
- Online gaming platforms
- Social media
Additionally, federal law makes it a crime for an individual to coerce or entice a person of any age to travel for the purpose of prostitution or to engage in criminal sexual activity for which he or she could be convicted.
Through the use of electronic communication, would-be offenders don’t have to physically cross state lines to be charged with child enticement if they are communicating with minors in another state. They can even be charged from outside of the United States, and U.S. citizens have faced sexual tourism charges for visiting or communicating with minors outside of the country for the purpose of engaging in prohibited sexual acts.
Federal child enticement cases are prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office following an investigation by federal and local law enforcement agencies. The federal government’s involvement in these cases is often dependent on the severity and reach of the facts of the case.
Depending on the circumstances, investigations of child enticement could involve Homeland Security, Customs & Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the U.S. Marshals, in addition to local police and sheriff’s offices.
Can Law Enforcement Legally Use Sting Operations?
Child enticement charges can be brought against an individual who simply believed they were talking to a minor online, even when the person on the other end of the conversation turns out to be an undercover agent posing as an underage person.
These so-called “sting operations” have resulted in hundreds of thousands of arrests when the online solicitor arrives at an agreed upon location and is then detained after making a plan to meet the “minor” to engage in a sexual relationship.
Sting operations are legal, but the prosecution must be able to prove there was a sexual motivation for meeting with the minor in order to press charges for enticement or solicitation. Simply arranging a meeting with a minor for a different purpose is not considered solicitation.
Why Am I Being Charged With Enticement in Addition to Other Crimes?
Enticement charges usually go hand-in-hand with other allegations of sexual misconduct, including:
- Pimping and pandering
- Sexual abuse
- Failure to register as a sex offender
- Transporting a child across state lines for illicit sexual purposes
- Filing false immigration statements
- Sexual exploitation of a child
- Human trafficking
A person who is involved in any capacity in the efforts of another to coerce or entice a minor to engage in sexual activity can be charged with conspiracy, even if he or she didn’t have direct sexual contact with the victim.
While less common, conspiracy to child enticement often occurs in connection to human trafficking cases where sex is being sold and a third party profits off of the sexual exploitation of a minor.
Can Police Search My Phone and Computer if I’m Being Charged With Enticement or Conspiracy?
Since computers may contain evidence or further evidence of a crime, the courts have ruled that personal electronic devices may be seized and searched when there is probable cause to do so.
While pursuing charges of child enticement, prosecutors and law enforcement will likely obtain a search warrant that allows them to examine a defendant’s computers, phones, and other electronic devices.
Sometimes, this results in additional charges of possession, production, transportation, or distribution of child pornography, which can lead to aggravated charges and enhanced sentencing on top of enticement or solicitation charges.
Do I Need an Attorney if I’m Charged With Enticement?
Federal child enticement charges are serious in nature, and the stakes are quite high if convicted. Under U.S. Code Title 18 2422(b), the penalty for such charges is a mandatory minimum 10 years in federal prison up to life imprisonment. If those charges include accusations of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct, the maximum penalty can be up to 20 years behind bars.
Consequently, the specific details of the alleged crime, such as whether or not there was ongoing contact with the victim, become important factors to the prosecution’s case as well as to a potential defense.
For this reason, an individual who has been charged or expects to be charged with child enticement or any other federal sex crime needs the legal assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney who can gather the pertinent facts and hire expert investigators when necessary. An attorney will offer legal advice on the best defense strategy for your case and cast reasonable doubt on any charges filed against you.
What Are the Penalties for a Federal Child Enticement Conviction?
Penalties for federal enticement charges differ based on the nature of the exchange between the defendant and the alleged victim, the methods that were used, the age of the victim, and the past criminal history of the offender. When a victim of enticement is older than 18, federal sentencing guidelines allow for prison terms up to 20 years. However, child enticement charges garner much stricter sentencing guidelines.
A minimum 10-year sentence must be imposed by the court when the victim is under 18, with the possibility of life imprisonment in certain circumstances. The courts can also leverage fines up to $250,000 and order supervised release conditions that last for the entirety of the convicted individual’s life.
A federal prosecutor will be looking for any aggravating factors and pushing for longer prison sentences in child enticement cases. Judges are given some latitude in determining sentencing outcomes. For example, a judge may consider the following during his or her deliberations:
- The manner and means of communication between the defendant and his or her victim, such as whether a computer or other electronic communication device like a cell phone was used during the commission of the alleged crime.
- The nature and substance (how explicit the communication was between the defendant and any victims) of the conversations between the parties involved, and whether a plan to meet in person developed, as well as how that plan developed (was the meeting suggested by the defendant and did he or she pressure the child into meeting).
- Whether the interaction was between an actual minor and the defendant or an undercover agent posing as a minor.
- The age of the victim, even if the minor is a fabrication as part of an undercover sting operation. Crimes involving children younger than 12 may receive significantly harsher sentences.
- The presence of child pornography in the offender’s possession.
- The number of victims the defendant is accused of targeting.
- The educational background, history, and any prior criminal convictions of the defendant, especially those involving children. Judges are also likely to look at past sentences served for cases involving minors.
- Potential deterrent effects of any sentence imposed. The judge will consider whether a punishment is likely to prevent a defendant from reoffending following his or her release from custody.
What Are Possible Defenses Against Child Enticement Charges?
When electronic communication is involved in child enticement cases, the burden of proof is on the government to prove that the accused individual actually participated in the communication in question. An experienced criminal defense attorney may hire a cyber forensic investigator or other expert to attempt to disprove the prosecution’s case.
No Intention of Sexual Acts With a Minor
Other defenses that are sometimes employed in child enticement and solicitation cases include arguing that the accused had no intention of engaging in sexual acts with the minor, demonstrating proof that the defendant didn’t know or believe that the alleged victim was underage, and putting forth evidence that the defendant was a victim of entrapment by law enforcement.
Entrapment is a defense that attempts to prove that a defendant only committed an offense because he or she was lured into doing so by law enforcement.
Sometimes, a defense attorney will argue that a defendant was caught up in an overzealous undercover sting operation and only acted because he or she was pressured, harassed, or threatened into participating by the agent posing as a minor or because he or she was convinced into believing that the proposed conduct was legal.
Although entrapment laws focus primarily on an officer’s conduct, the defendant’s criminal history and character are relevant to proving entrapment as a defense. Undercover officers are allowed to:
- Offer the opportunity or to initiate criminal activity
- Pretend to be someone they’re not
- Offer reasonable reassurance that the defendant is not being set up
However, undercover officers cannot continue to pursue a subject once he or she has refused to engage in illegal conduct. Successfully establishing entrapment as a defense against child enticement means that criminal charges may be dismissed entirely.
In the event of a conviction, a defense attorney familiar with child sex crime cases will turn his or her focus and efforts to presenting mitigating factors that could reduce the penalties their clients may face and present these facts in the defendant’s favor ahead of sentencing. Mitigating factors include:
- Whether or not the offender has mental health or substance abuse disorders that led to their criminal behavior.
- Lack of a criminal record.
- A lack of sexually explicit communication between the offender and his or her victim.
- Whether the behavior was isolated to only one victim or many.
Contact Berry Law Today
If you are being investigated by federal law enforcement, are being charged with child enticement using an electronic device, or believe that you intend to be charged with this crime, you need legal help.
The criminal defense team at Berry Law can help to protect your rights. We are familiar with federal child sex crimes, and we can help you build a defense to reduce or eliminate your charges. Contact us today to get started with a free consultation.