In 2004, NBC changed reality television by blending a news program with another kind of fascination: watching people attempt to commit crimes they would not have otherwise attempted. So it was that the Dateline NBC series “To Catch a Predator” was born. The series, hosted by Chris Hansen, used the help of the Internet watchdog agency Perverted-Justice, whose staff pose on the Internet as minors to lure adults in various states into agreeing to meet for sex.
The show ran three investigations in California: one in Petaluma, one in Long Beach, and one in Riverside County. When the unsuspecting adult showed up at the house, Hansen greeted him or her, conducted an interview and opened the doors to law enforcement officers prepared to arrest the person.
The question is: How can simply showing up to a meeting with a minor a crime before any criminal act been committed? The answer lies in California Penal Code section 288.3
A Crime within a Crime
Under PC 288.3, it is a felony to contact, communicate with, or attempt to contact or communicate with a person who you know or reasonably should know is a minor, with the intent to commit any of the following crimes:
- Kidnapping (Penal Code section 207);
- Kidnapping for ransom, reward, extortion, or to commit robbery or rape (Penal Code section 209);
- Rape (Penal Code section 261);
- Rape in concert with another person (Penal Code section 264.1);
- Child endangerment (Penal Code section 273a);
- Sodomy (Penal Code section 286);
- Lewd acts with a child under 14 (Penal Code section 288);
- Oral copulation by force or fear (Penal Code section 288a);
- Oral copulation with a minor (Penal Code section 288a);
- Sending harmful material to a minor (Penal Code section 288.2)
- Forcible acts of sexual penetration (Penal Code section 289); or
- Child pornography offenses (Penal Code sections 311.1, 311.2, 311.4, and 311.11). 1
Contacting or communicating with a minor includes direct and indirect contact or communication. This means that the contact can be conducted in person, by another person on your behalf, or through other means such as telephone conversations, electronic communications (i.e., text messages, e-mail, or Internet chat messages) or postal communications.
Punishment for Contacting a Minor with Intent to Commit a Felony
The penalties for contacting a minor to commit a felony are the same as that of the crime you intended to commit against that minor. For example, if you emailed a 12-year-old minor with the intent to commit lewd acts, you would be punished as if you were convicted of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14. Therefore, you could be punished with a sentence of three, six or eight years in state prison.
Defending to a PC 288.3 Charge
Our skilled attorneys have successfully helped clients facing these charges. Some defenses we have used to help our clients include:
You reasonably believed the minor was age 18 or older – The key to this defense is that the minor lied about his or her age. Suppose you were at a bar or nightclub, and that a bouncer was working at the door, checking the ID card of anyone who wished to enter. It would therefore be reasonable for you to conclude that anyone who was in the club was an adult.
You had no intent to commit a felony – Suppose you talked to your neighbor’s 15-year-old son as he was walking to school and asked him to stop by when he returns. Your intent was to ask him if he would want to earn some extra money by helping you clean out your garage. The boy’s mother decides to pick him up at the end of the day, and he tells her that you wanted him to come over. Not knowing what your intent was, she calls the police, believing that you intended to perform some type of sexual act on her son. In such a situation, you could not be convicted for this crime because your intent had nothing to do with committing a crime.
You were entrapped – A judge threw out the case against one of the men caught in the “To Catch a Predator” investigation in Petaluma. Joseph Roisman was accused of contacting a minor for the purpose of committing lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14. 2
Roisman’s defense team never got the opportunity to put on its defense because the judge decided that the tactics used by Perverted-Justice and law enforcement were entrapment. This means that the judge believed that the prosecutor failed to prove that Roisman had the predisposition to commit a crime, and that the criminal design originated entirely with law enforcement.
Wallin & Klarich Can Help You Fight Charges of Contacting a Minor
If you have been accused of contacting a minor with the intent of committing a felony, you will need an aggressive and experienced attorney to help you. That is why you should contact the criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. With over 30 years of experience, our attorneys have the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully defend you. We are committed to providing you with the personal attention you deserve and expect to help you overcome this difficult situation.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in California criminal defense near you, no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.
1. [See Cal. Pen. Code §288.3.]↩
2. [Damien Gayle, “Sailor acquitted of being a paedophile after To Catch A Predator TV show ‘entrapped’ him,’ The Daily Mail, August 18, 2011, available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2027147/Joseph-Roisman-acquitted-paedophile-To-Catch-A-Predator-entrapment.html]↩