Virginia has long criminalized child pornography and sexual contact with a minor. However, the rise of the internet has facilitated the commission of these crimes and online sex crimes. With the click of a mouse, a person could easily access a giant cache of child pornography or set up a rendezvous in a hotel room with a teenager.
At Leary Law, our Fairfax criminal defense attorney has helped many clients caught up in police stings. Many advocacy groups like Perverted-Justice are also online trying to lure people into sexually suggestive communications—all so they can catch “predators” and garner media publicity. If you would like to talk to an attorney, please contact us.
Crimes against Children
The primary starting place for any discussion of online sex crimes is Virginia Code § 18.2-374.3. This is a broad statute and includes using any electronic communication to solicit sex or indecent exposure with a minor. Electronic communication can include email, social media sites, and online bulletin boards. But it also is broader and covers text messages or other electronic communications.
Online sex crimes offenses can include:
- Producing, publishing, financing, or selling child pornography, as defined in Va. Code 18.2-374.1. A minor is anyone under the age of 18, and pornography includes sexually explicit material. This is a Class 6 felony.
- Soliciting someone the defendant has reason to believe is under 15 to expose their genitals or agree to sexual contact. This is generally a Class 5 felony, though the punishment can vary depending on the age disparity.
Defendants are looking possibly at years in jail and steep fines if convicted. For example, a Class 5 felony conviction can lead to 1-10 years in prison and fines. A Class 6 felony can also result in 1-5 years in prison, though the judge or jury has discretion to impose a lighter sentence.
Those convicted will probably need to register as a sex offender for at least 15 years. This database is searchable, which means your neighbors could easily find out about your conviction.
The age discrepancy matters enormously in online sex cases. For example, if you are at least 7 years older than the child you communicated with, you are looking at a mandatory 5 years in prison. A 22 year old who proposes sex with a 14 year old might not see freedom for half a decade. This fact makes a vigorous defense all the more critical, since judges lose their discretion to impose a lighter sentence.
A good Manassas criminal defense attorney will try to negotiate a plea deal that reduces the charges you face. If so, you can avoid mandatory minimums for an online solicitation case. You might still face time in jail or prison, but it could be much less.
Plea negotiations are difficult. Your attorney will have a stronger hand the less you admit to the police. Combing through your internet search history is time consuming, so police are often hoping that suspects admit to communicating with a minor. In our experience, far too many defendants do just that.
Defending against Online Sex Crimes
In many cases, our clients were not actually communicating with a minor. Instead, the person on the other end of the electronic communication was an adult, usually a police officer trying to catch a child predator. This fact can matter in many cases.
For example, Va. Code §18.2-374.3 requires that the defendant believe that the person they are communicating with is under 15. In some cases, a minor will lie, which means the defendant might be able to get out from under the charge. However, when a defendant was communicating with someone who really is under 15, they can be charged under § 18.2-370, Taking indecent liberties with a minor.
When clients are caught in police stings, they often want to raise entrapment as a defense. This is a hard defense to bring in Virginia. Specifically, we need to show that improper police conduct planted in our client’s mind the disposition to commit the crime. It is not enough that the officer was lying about his or her age behind the cloak of online anonymity.
Contact a Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Immediately
There is not time like the present to begin building a defense. Leary Law will do everything possible to keep you out of jail and defend your reputation. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.