Defending allegations of electronic solicitation of a minor

Published: 12 October 2014

Local police and FBI agents routinely conduct “sting” operations online. They create fake profiles to present themselves as teenage girls and troll chat rooms in search of men who will eventually discuss the possibility of meeting in person for sex. The operations resemble those featured on Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” series. However, as police frequently go too far by complimenting the men and hinting that they want to talk about sex, the men that fall into the trap are often not predators. Instead, the ruse snares all sorts of men—from lonely, depressed individuals who are simply responding to attention to curious men who are merely intrigued by the unsolicited advances and never really believe that the person on the other end of the conversation is actually a teenager.

An effective attorney will begin defending you through aggressive pre-trial work, including a comprehensive examination of electronic evidence. Often, police simply provide prosecutors with a copy of a chat in a format that can be edited. If this happened in your case, your attorney should ask for access to your computer (likely seized) and police computers in order to conduct a forensic examination. A forensic examination can reveal the strength—or weakness—of the prosecution’s evidence. Did police follow protocol for preserving electronic evidence? Did they even have such a protocol? What steps did they take to preserve all data from chats and emails? An attorney with computer forensics knowledge can answer these questions and, thereby, identify holes in the prosecution’s case. Our attorneys have successfully argued that experts need to examine both the defendant’s computer and the computer police used. We will argue for sanctions, even dismissal, if evidence was not properly preserved.

Computer forensics also provide relevant insight to the key issue in these cases: did the defendant really believe he was chatting with an underage girl? Defense attorneys should seek to examine the seized computers for evidence of other chats and pornography. The absence of other chats soliciting minors or pornography indicating attraction to underage girls indicates that the incident was an isolated response to a law enforcement snare, rather than a snapshot of a predatory pattern.

You need an attorney who understands computer forensics and recognizes evidentiary and other defenses. When interviewing attorneys, ask if they have attended any computer forensics courses. Your attorney does not need to be a forensic examiner, but he or she must be able to identify all possible defenses and effectively cross examine the prosecution’s expert. We have attorneys who have attended computer forensics training courses — the same courses that the prosecution’s experts likely attended. We can identify relevant defenses and effectively defend charges of electronic solicitation of a minor. Call us for a free consultation.

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