Internet and Computer Sex Crimes

Use of the internet has become almost universal in the U.S. While this provides a variety of advantages, it also leaves room for an increasing number of computer-based sex crimes. In an effort to stem the tide of these kinds of crimes, the Florida Legislature passed the Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act under state statute 847.0135, in addition to a series of other laws aimed at protecting children from online predators. Violating these laws can have serious consequences, so it is important to have a good understanding of what constitutes unlawful behavior.

Computer Pornography

The making, distributing, or possession of child pornography is foremost among internet sex crimes, as Florida law prohibits knowingly compiling, transmitting, making, printing, reproducing, buying, selling, or receiving:
  • Any minor’s name, phone number, address, or physical characteristics for the purpose of facilitating, encouraging, or soliciting sexual conduct of or with a minor
  • Images depicting sexual conduct of or with a minor
Those convicted of downloading and viewing this type of content face third degree felony charges under state 775.082, which are punishable by five years in prison, a $5,000 fine, and probation. Sharing the images with another person increases the charge to a second-degree felony, which could mean up to 15 years in prison while producing or promoting child pornography can be a first-degree felony.

Soliciting or Traveling to Meet a Minor

Florida law also prohibits people from using a computer online service to:
  • Seduce or lure a child to commit any illegal act or to engage in unlawful sexual conduct with that child
  • Solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to entice a parent to consent to the child’s participation in a sexual act
These offenses are charged as third-degree felonies and carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 21 months, $5,000 in fines, and five years on the sex offender registry. However, if there is evidence that the defendant misrepresented his or her age in order to lure the child into a meeting, the charges will be increased to a second-degree felony. The offense will also be charged as a second-degree felony if the offender actually traveled any distance, or even attempted to travel to meet up with a child in order to engage in sexual acts. The charge cannot be defeated by arguing that the victim was in fact not a child. As long as the defendant believed that the target was a child, he or she can be convicted under this statute. Furthermore, each separate use of a computer service for this purpose can be charged as a separate offense, which can result in decades-long prison sentences.

Prohibited Transmissions

Certain computer transmissions are also barred by Florida law, which prohibits anyone from committing the following acts over an online service if he or she believes that the transmission is being viewed by someone under the age of 16 years old:
  • Intentionally masturbating
  • Intentionally exposing the genitals in a lewd manner
  • Intentionally committing any other sexual act that does not include actual physical contact with the victim
Adult offenders face up to 15 years in prison if convicted. However, those who are under the age of 18 years old at the time of the exhibition will have their charge reduced to a third-degree felony. It is also unlawful for the owner of an internet service or computer online service to knowingly allow a subscriber to use the service to commit a computer sex crime. Violations are charged as first-degree misdemeanors, which could require the payment of a $2,000 fine. Furthermore, defendants are not permitted to raise as a defense that an undercover law enforcement officer was involved in a computer sting operation, which led to the detection and investigation of the defendant.

Potential Defenses

Although defendants are prohibited from using certain defenses, they may still provide evidence that:
  • The evidence obtained was the result of an illegal search or seizure
  • They were entrapped by police officers
  • The hard drive containing the sexual images had a prior owner
  • They are the victim of mistaken identity
  • They were not the only one to have access to the computer in question
  • They hand not intended to follow through with the unlawful conduct

Prosecutors must prove that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction for committing a computer sex crime.

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