Advances in technology have completely changed the way we communicate. The internet and social media websites provide a form of anonymous communication. Internet chat rooms are primary targets for undercover police operations seeking illegal sexual related activity.
Most people remember the infamous Dateline NBC series “To Catch a Predator,” where countless numbers of men were caught on tape coming to the home of a minor after arranging the meeting in a chat room.
Every law enforcement agency throughout Los Angeles County will take these type cases seriously and aggressively investigate all credible accusations.
In Los Angeles, police will typically pose as an underage person in a chat room and attempt to engage individuals into illegal activity, including arranging a meeting to engage for sex. Can the police lie to you in a chat room? Yes. The police lie daily in chat rooms about who they are and why they are there.
Their main goal is the pursuit and arrest of individuals they deem as sexual predators. They will tell completely made up stories and use images of minors in an effort to get someone to meet them in person. In most circumstances, their tactics are legally permitted.
However, there are some circumstances where the police will go too far in their pursuit of catching alleged sex offenders.
Online Police Decoys Posing as Minors
California law prohibits an individual from arranging a meeting with a minor (someone under 18) or someone they believe is a minor, if the meeting is motivated by sexual interest in the minor and for the purpose of engaging in lewd or lascivious conduct.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm has represented many clients in similar circumstances. Most often, our client started a conservation with a police decoy posing as a 14 year old girl searching for new friends.
The decoy will explain her age and expresses an interest in finding a new boyfriend and suggest meeting them at a local public place. Once our client arrived at the location, they are met by plain clothes police officers and arrested.
If you have been accused of a arranging a meeting with a minor for sexual purposes, do not make any statements to police as you may incriminate yourself.
Contact the experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Eisner Gorin LLP to review the specific details so we can start preparing a solid defense strategy. What exactly is meeting a minor for lewd purposes? Let's examine the legal definition below.
California Penal Code 288.4 PC - Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes
California law specifically prohibits any individual from setting up a meeting with a minor (under 18 years old) if the meeting is motivated by sexual interest. The law is defined under California Penal Code 288.4, which states:
- Every individual who is motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children, arranges a meeting with a minor or someone they believes is a minor for the purpose of exposing their genitals, pubic, rectal area, having the child expose their genitals, pubic, or rectal area, or engaging in lewd or lascivious behavior is guilty of Section 288.4.
In simple terms, this legal definition above means it's a crime just to arrange a meeting with a minor while being motivated by an abnormal sexual interest in children with the intent to engage in sexual conduct with the minor at the meeting.
This means you could be convicted if you never actually met the minor or engaged in sexual activity.
Simply arranging the meeting is a crime. The intended sexual conduct under Section 288.4 includes a defendant exposing their genitals, pubic, or rectal area or where the defendant has the minor expose the same areas on their body.
Lewd or lascivious conduct means any touching of the child's body with the specific intent of sexual arousal of either party.
A closely related offense is contacting a minor to commit a felony under California Penal Code 288.3.
It is not necessary for bare skin to be touched, it could even include touching through their clothes. Contact our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm for more information.
Is Penal Code 288.4 a Misdemeanor or Felony Crime?
Arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes is known as a “wobbler.” This means the prosecutor can file either misdemeanor or felony charges. Their decision is typically based of the specific facts and circumstances of the case and the defendant's prior criminal history.
If the defendant has no prior criminal history, the case will normally be filed as a misdemeanor offense. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the legal penalties include up to one year in a county jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
If the defendant has any prior convictions that required them to register as a California sex offender or the defendant actually attends the meeting with the minor they arranged, the case will normally be filed as a felony crime.
If convicted of a felony offense of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes, the legal penalties include 16 months to 4 years in a California state prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Its important to note that regardless of whether the defendant was convicted of a misdemeanor or felony offense, they could be subjected to the sex offender registration requirement under California Penal Code Section 290.
This means the defendant will be required to register annually with law enforcement to confirm their residence. With this type of requirement, Megan's Law website might publish the defendant's name, picture, and address on the internet.
What are the Legal Defenses Against Penal Code 288.4?
Depending on the specific details and circumstances of your case, an experienced criminal defense lawyer might be able to challenge your charges using a variety of legal defenses, including:
- Your motivation for arranging the meeting was not due to a sexual interest in minors;
- You had no intention of actually engaging in lewd acts at the meeting;
- You did not know they were a minor;
- Entrapment – You were induced to commit a crime you would otherwise not have committed.
Charges of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes are very common after being caught in an internet sting from undercover police officers. In many cases, these officers who pretend to be minor become aggressive with their flirting and often suggest a meeting.
In these type situations, a skilled criminal lawyer could make a successful argument of entrapment.
Call a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
Just an accusation you were involved in a sexual related crime with a minor can have a devastating impact on your personal and professional life. A misdemeanor or felony conviction carries significant legal consequences.
If you are facing allegations you arranged a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes, call a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at Eisner Gorin LLP immediately at 877-781-1570.