Soliciting and/or Traveling to Meet a Minor for Unlawful Sex

In Florida, under state statute 847.0135, soliciting or traveling to meet a child in order to take part in sexual activity is a serious offense that is punishable by jail time, fines, and mandatory registration as a sex offender.

Prohibited Use of the Internet

Florida law specifically prohibits people from using the internet, an online service, or an electronic device to solicit a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct. In fact, even if the victim was not a minor, the offender can still be prosecuted as long as he or she believed that the child was a minor at the time of the communication. Furthermore, even attempting to lure a child can also be prosecuted under this statute. The Florida Legislature also specifically addressed situations where a child’s parents are involved in the solicitation. In these cases, when a person solicits or attempts to solicit a parent or a child’s legal guardian to consent to the child’s participation in a sexual activity, he or she can be charged with a third-degree felony. If the person solicited by the offender is not actually the child’s parent, the defendant can still be charged with solicitation. All that is necessary to obtain a conviction in these situations is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant believed that the person was the child’s guardian. Soliciting a child or soliciting a child’s parent can both be charged with third-degree felonies, which are punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The charge can be increased to a second-degree felony when the offender misrepresented his or her age to the child or the child’s parent. In computer sex crimes cases, each separate use of an online service or each transmission can be charged as a separate offense. This means that if a person used a chat room to attempt to solicit a child on five different occasions, each attempt can be charged.

Traveling to Meet a Minor

In some cases, an offender never attempts to actually meet up with the child that he or she solicited. In these situations, the offender would be charged with solicitation and perhaps the transmission of obscene material. However, if an offender actually attempts to meet the minor in person, he or she will face additional charges. Furthermore, it does not matter how far the defendant traveled to meet the child. Whether he or she stayed within the state or traveled out-of-state, the offender can be charged with traveling to meet a minor. All that is required is proof that the defendant traveled any distance with the purpose of participating in unlawful sexual conduct with a child after using an online service or device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to:
  • Lure a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct
  • Entice a child’s parent to consent to the child’s participation in a sexual act
Those who are convicted of traveling to meet a minor will face the consequences of a second degree felony under state statute 775.082, which includes a prison sentence of up to 15 years, a $10,000 fine, and registration on the sex offender list. Attempting to travel or causing another person to attempt to travel to meet a minor is also unlawful and can be charged as a second-degree felony.

What Qualifies as an Electronic Device?

Prior to 2007. state law did not contain any reference to electronic devices. However, since that time, the increasing capabilities of cell phones and other digital devices has led the Florida Legislature to add electronic devices that are capable of data storage or transmission to the list of mediums that cannot be used to solicit a child. While this provision clearly encompasses advanced smart phones, it remains unclear whether phones that lack sophisticated functions also fall under this category.

Possible Defenses

Although there are a variety of defenses available to defendants who have been charged with solicitation or traveling to meet a minor, including mistaken identity and illegal search or seizure, Florida law specifically prohibits offenders from arguing that an undercover law enforcement agent posed as a child. However, defendants can raise the defense of entrapment in certain cases. Entrapment occurs when a government agent induces another person to commit a crime that that individual would not have otherwise been predisposed to commit. This defense is only applicable when the defendant can demonstrate that he or she was not predisposed to commit a solicitation offense. A defendant may also be able to argue that his or her actions do not qualify as solicitation or enticement.
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