August 5, 2014 By Stephen Klarich

Imagine this: you’re sitting in your California home surfing an online chat room. Suddenly, you strike up a dialogue with a woman halfway across the country. As the conversation progresses and becomes more sexual in nature, you are made aware of the fact that the person you are chatting with is younger than 18 – the age of consent in California. Startled, you quickly search for the age of consent in the girl’s home state and to your relief, you discover that she is considered an adult by law where she lives. You can’t possibly be prosecuted for a sex offense if the girl was of legal age in her home state, right? Think again.

People V. Shapiro (No. G048132, California Courts of Appeal – Fourth Appellate District, July 23, 2014)

Familiarize yourself with your state's age of consent.
To avoid facing a sex offense, it is important to be familiar with your state’s age of consent.

In a recent case, 59-year-old California resident Mark Shapiro met 14-year-old Indiana resident “Jane Doe” in an internet chat room. At the time of their chat, Shapiro, using the name Todd Christopher Elliot, claimed to be only two or three years older than the victim. Initially, Shapiro and Doe would speak only a few times throughout the week but as time progressed, so did the frequency of their chats.

The interaction between Doe and Shapiro started off innocent, but when Doe turned 16 – the age of consent in Indiana – the conversations quickly became sexual. Shapiro began asking the victim to masturbate and later sent her an image of a “young man, who he claimed to be him, with his penis exposed.” 1 In exchange, the victim proceeded to send nude images of herself to Shapiro. The substance of the online conversations progressed further and at one point, Shapiro suggested that the victim achieve orgasm by penetrating herself with the handle of a hairbrush.

Shortly thereafter, the parents of Doe became suspicious of their daughter’s irregular behavior. Upon hiring a private investigator, Shapiro’s true identity was discovered. After the Huntington Beach Police Department conducted a search of his home and computer, Shapiro was charged and later convicted of violating California Penal Code section 288.3(a), which prohibits contacting a minor with the intent to commit various crimes, including sexual penetration with a person under the age of 18. 2 He was sentenced to 5 years of formal probation and 240 days in jail. 3

Shapiro appealed his judgment on many grounds. His primary argument, however, was that Jane Doe was not a minor because the age of consent under Indiana law is 16 years of age. Shapiro disputed that two adults have the right to converse about sex. 4

How Did the Court Rule?

Unfortunately for Shapiro, the appellate court rejected his arguments and the charges stood. The court found that for purposes of applying California law, the state in which the appeal took place, Jane Doe was in fact a minor. The court added, “no state, for purposes of interpreting its own law, is required to adopt another state’s definition.” 5 Therefore, it was concluded that Shapiro was rightfully punished for communicating with a person that California has defined as underage.

What does this Decision Mean?

This case, amongst countless similar situations should be a reminder that using online chat rooms to meet others is a dangerous and risky behavior for all parties involved. An individual can easily mask their true identity behind a computer screen, making it virtually impossible to know whether the other individual is being honest, especially when it comes to their age.

Because using an online chat room allows people from all over the country to communicate with one another, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the age of consent in your home state and only speak with individuals who are of age in the state where you live.

Call Wallin & Klarich Today If You are Being Prosecuted for a Sex Offense in California

If you or a loved one have been accused of a sex offense, you need a criminal defense attorney who knows every aspect of the law and who will vigorously fight for your freedom. We have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients charged with various sex offenses.

Contact Wallin & Klarich today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245. We will get through this together.

1. [Daily Appellate Report People V. Shapiro – July 25, 2014]
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3. [Daily Appellate Report People V. Shapiro – July 25, 2014]
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5. [Id.]

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