How Social Media Can Land You in Prison for Talking to a Minor
The society we live in now is one built on a foundation of instant communication. We use our mobile phones and computers to instantly connect with our friends, family, colleagues, and coworkers, but also to reach out to complete strangers and meet new people. Applications like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are useful for advertising ourselves to those we know and those we don’t. Dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, Blender and others have made it easier to connect and start new relationships.
That blessing of instant communication has also become a curse for some, as it is also easy to be tricked into committing a crime. This appears to be the trap that San Mateo police officer Robert Davies may have fallen into when he was arrested on suspicion of contacting a minor with the intent of committing a felony.
Davies was arrested on a tip from a group called Silicon Valley Crime Stoppers, who received information from a person posing as a 16-year-old girl on various social media platforms. Davies first found this person on a Tinder account, which claimed that the person was 19, but used a profile photo that showed a younger person. After they connected on Tinder, they switched the conversation to Kik, a free messaging app, and then also to Snapchat.
Police were tipped off about Davies’ discussion with the apparent minor about meeting for sex. After confirming his identity, they obtained search warrants for his computer and other electronic devices, and then an arrest warrant for Davies.
Contacting a Minor with Intent to Commit a Felony: California Penal Code Section 288.3
Like many others, Davies was caught in a trap set by a watchdog group. These groups often conduct sting operations designed to lure unsuspecting people into traps intended for persons who are seeking to meet with a minor for the purpose of an unlawful sexual encounter. Sometimes these sting operations catch people who are genuinely guilty; others catch innocent folks who did not believe or understand that they were communicating with someone under the age of 18.
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).
To secure a conviction against you for violating this law, the prosecution must prove all of the following elements:
- You contacted or communicated with, or attempted to contact or communicate with a minor;
- When you did so, you intended to commit one of the offenses listed above against that minor; AND
- You knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a minor.
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, email, or Internet apps) or postal communications.
Punishments for Violating PC 288.3
The penalty for contacting a minor to commit a felony is the same as that of the crime you intended to commit against that minor. So, for example, if you emailed a 12-year-old minor with the intent to commit lewd acts, you would be punished as if you had violated Penal Code section 288, which is committing a lewd act 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.
Where The Entrapment Defense Can Work to Get Charges Dismissed
A judge threw out the case against one of the men caught in the “To Catch a Predator” investigation in Petaluma. Joseph Roisman, then 26, after he was accused of contacting a minor for the purpose of committing lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14.
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 to be 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.
Time will tell if the social media sting operation that ensnared Davies will be deemed to be entrapment, but what his case does is highlight the usefulness of having an aggressive and experienced criminal defense team to make that argument.
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 beat the charge. That is why you should contact the criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. With over 35 years of experience, our attorneys have the skills and knowledge 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 Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.