Review of Chat Room Sex Crimes and Legal Defenses
Many law enforcement agencies in California set up and operate undercover sting operations in an effort to catch people committing sex crimes in an online chat room.
Chat rooms are frequently used by predators to lure a minor into sexual related activity. They are also used to exhibit sexually explicit pictures or videos to a minor, which is anyone under the age of 18 in California.
One of the most common chat room related crime is arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd and larvicolous purposes defined under California Penal Code 288.4 PC.
Misguided online flirtation or a simple misunderstanding may have you facing serious legal consequences. On the other hand, you may have had a lapse in judgment that could cost you your freedom.
It's now vital that you understand the charges and consequences that you face. Only then can you make an informed decision about your defense.
The penalties for a sex crime conviction involving a minor are severe and you could be facing charges in a state or even a federal courtroom.
The specific charge that you face depends on the details of your case. Your charges may also be at the discretion of the prosecutor.
For more information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are review the laws below.
The potential charges for chat room sex crimes are covered under many different California Penal Codes, including:
Penal Code § 288.2 PC – Sending Harmful Material to a Minor
California PC 288.2 makes it a crime to send or distribute harmful matter to a minor with the intent to seduce them.
Harmful material typically includes pictures that depict minors engaged in sexual activity.
Anyone charged under this statute must have sent or distributed the harmful material with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the sexual desires of either the minor or themselves.
Further, a defendant must have intended to engage in sexual contact with the minor or to induce the minor to either allow them to touch an intimate body part of the minor, or to persuade the minor to touch an intimate body part of the defendant.
PC 288.2 is a “wobbler” that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor conviction carries the following penalties:
- Up to one year in a county jail,
- A fine up to $1,000.
If you are convicted on a felony PC 288.2 case, the penalties include:
- Two, three, or five years in a California state prison,
- A fine up to $10,000,
- Sex offender registration.
Penal Code § 288.3 PC - Contacting a Minor to Commit a Felony
California PC 288.3 PC makes it a crime to contact a minor, knowing they are a minor, with the intent to commit a sex crime or other serious felony. The is crime is defined as:
- “a person who contacts or communicates with a minor, or attempts to contact, who should have reasonably known they were a minor, with intent to commit a specific offense involving the minor.”
You may be charged under Penal Code 288.3 PC if the prosecutor believes that:
- You knowingly contacted a minor in a chat room,
- You should have known that they were a minor,
- You intended to commit a felony (including but not limited to a sex crime).
Some of the underlying felonies that fall under this statute include:
- Penal Code 261 PC – rape,
- Penal Code 288.2 PC – sending harmful material to a minor,
- Penal Code 287 PC – oral copulation with a minor.
In order to be convicted, it must be proven you knew they were a minor at the time of contact. The penalties will depend on the underlying crime.
For instance, if you were over 21 years old and charged with contacting a 15 year old with intent to engage in sodomy (Penal Code 286 PC), the penalties would be exactly the same for PC 286, which is up to 14 years in a California state prison.
Further, a PC 288.3 conviction will also require sex offender registration under Penal Code 290 PC.
If you have been previously convicted of this charge, you may face additional prison time for a second conviction.
Penal Code § 288.4 PC - Arrange Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes
California PC 288.4 makes it a crime to arrange a meeting with a minor while you are motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children, and there is an intent to engage in specific sexual activity with them at the meeting.
This is the primary statute used by prosecutors to charge someone for illegal chat room activity.
Put simply, it's a crime to just arrange a meeting with a minor if you are motivated by sex, even if you never actually meet the minor. In other words, it's illegal to just set up the meeting.
If you allegedly intended to do any of the following acts, then you could be charged under this law:
- Exposing your genitals to a minor,
- Having the minor expose their genitals,
- Engaging in other lewd or lascivious behavior.
As noted, you do not have to attend a meeting with a minor to face these charges.
However, if you do arrive at a pre-arranged meeting, then you may face stiffer legal consequences.
These are two charges that may stem directly from a chat room encounter with a minor.
Our team can explain the details of any other charges that you are facing.
Other potential chat room related charges include Penal Code 311 PC child pornography and Penal Code 272 PC contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
These are most common charges that may stem directly from a chat room encounter with a minor.
Our criminal defense lawyers can explain the details of any other charges that you are facing.
Specific Acts That May Lead to Child Sex Crime Charges
Any of the following scenarios could plausibly lead to criminal charges:
- A man is in a chat room for fans of Star Wars. It becomes clear that he is speaking with a 15-year-old girl. Despite knowing her age, he speaks in sexual overtones and asks to meet the girl in person. Whether or not he attends the meeting, he may be criminally liable.
- A man is in a chat room. He attempts to solicit revealing photographs from someone who he knows is underage. This may lead to criminal charges.
- Someone in a chat room sends photographs of their genitals to someone they know, or should know, is underage.
Review of Potential Legal Consequences for a Conviction
The legal consequences that you face depend on the specific charges levied against you. It also depends on whether your lawyer can reduce or prompt the dismissal of the charges.
For a conviction of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes, criminal sanctions may include:
- A fine of up to $5,000
- Imprisonment of up to one year in county jail
Attending the arranged meeting can lead to confinement in state prison for either two (2), three (3), or four (4) years. You may also have to register as a sex offender in California.
For a charge of contacting a minor to commit a felony, your consequences may equal those of a conviction for the alleged felony.
These consequences may be even stiffer than a conviction for arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes.
How Can You Defend Yourself?
Hiring a lawyer is a clear way to defend your rights. For example, your lawyer may argue that:
- You were deceived into self-incriminating circumstances,
- You did not know that you were communicating with a minor,
- You had no intent to do harm.
We might be able to argue you are the victim of police entrapment. If police officers acted improperly in an undercover sting operation, then we might be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
Another common defense is to argue there was a lack of intent. For example, in a PC 288.4 case, we could argue you were not motivated by a sexual interest in children.
Yet another defense argument includes that you had a reasonable belief the person with whom you were speaking was an adult. If the prosecutor can't prove this crucial element of the crime, then you can't be convicted.
Perhaps, based on the chat room conservation, it was reasonable to conclude the person was not a minor.
Other defenses may apply to your case. An effective defense may result in:
- Reduction of charges (and a corresponding plea agreement),
- Dismissal of charges,
It may be possible to avid the filing of formal criminal charges before court through prefiling intervention.
Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County, including Century City and Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley.
If you are facing any type of misdemeanor or felony charges that are related to chat rooms, then contact our firm to review the details at (310) 328-3776.