In Harris County, Texas, soliciting a minor online is a felony. A conviction means significant jail time and registration as a sex offender. Typically, online solicitation results after online sting operations where undercover officers pose as minors.
The stakes are too high to try and explain things yourself. Instead, reach out to a highly experienced Houston online solicitation lawyer with considerable success in Sex crime cases. The right lawyer can ensure you get the chance to defend yourself without a rush to judgment. If the case is weak, you may be able to secure a drastic reduction. Better yet, a complete dismissal before things escalate.
Call (713) 222-6767 and speak to attorney Barnett in a free and confidential consultation.
What Is Online Solicitation of a Minor in Houston, TX?
Online solicitation of a minor is defined in Texas Penal Code Section 33.021. Texas recently made amendments to the law, which went into effect as of Sept. 1, 2015.
A minor is anyone under 17. And there are two ways you can be charged with online solicitation of a minor in Texas.
Under Section 33.021(b), an adult commits online solicitation of a minor if he or she intentionally communicates in a sexually explicit manner with a minor or distributes sexually explicit material to a minor. Sexually explicit means any language or material that relates to or describes sexual conduct.
Under Section 33.021(c), a person also commits online solicitation of a minor if he or she knowingly solicits a minor to meet with the intent that the minor would engage in sexual contact.
What Are the Penalties for Online Solicitation of a Minor?
Under Section 33.021(b), online solicitation of a minor is a third-degree felony. It carries a punishment of:
- Two to 10 years in a state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
If the minor is under 14, the penalties are enhanced to a second-degree felony. This means:
- Two to 20 years in prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
A conviction also results in:
- A permanent criminal record
- Loss of your firearm rights
- Loss of your voting rights
- Community service
- Registration as a sex offender
- Restitution to the victim or victims
In addition to criminal penalties, you could deal with:
- Loss of federal financial aid eligibility
- Damage to your professional reputation
- Damage to your reputation as a whole
- Trouble with immigration or citizenship
- Difficulty finding affordable, safe housing
- Trouble keeping or finding a good job
- Suspension or revocation of professional licenses
Sex Offender Registration for Online Solicitation
Anyone convicted of a sex crime after Sept. 1, 1970, must register as a sex offender in Texas. If you’re convicted of online solicitation of a minor, expect to register for a minimum of 10 years.
Once released, you will be assigned one of the following risk levels:
- Level 1 – The lowest risk sex offender. The state has determined that they have a low risk of committing another sex offense. They are a low risk to the community as a whole as well.
- Level 2 – Level two sex offenders have a moderate risk for re-offense. And they are a moderate threat to the community.
- Level 3 – Level three is the highest risk. They are at an increased risk of committing another sex crime. But they are also a severe threat to the community.
- Civil Commitment – These sex offenders are repeat offenders. They are likely to engage in predatory behaviors. The police carefully monitor them. They are committed to outpatient treatment as well.
If you have to register as a sex offender, moving on with your life can be difficult. Your employment opportunities will be limited. You will have trouble finding housing. Not to mention the stigma of your sex offender status hanging over you for the foreseeable future.
If you fail to register as a sex offender in Texas, you can face severe penalties, such as:
- Up to 20 years in prison
- Fines up to $10,000
- Register as a sex offender for life
- Verify registration every 90 days
Sex offender registration can haunt you for the rest of your life. Take steps to protect your future. Don’t let your online solicitation conviction get in the way. A defense lawyer can help you with an aggressive defense.
How To Defend Yourself Against Online Solicitation Charges
For online solicitation charges, several possible defenses could work.
What is Entrapment?
Entrapment occurs when law enforcement entices people into committing crimes that they would not have otherwise done. This can be a tough defense to pursue. This is because your lawyer will need to prove that you do not have an inclination for online solicitation.
Problems With Evidence
Finding flaws in the evidence or how it was collected could be another defense strategy. Unlawfully obtained evidence should never be admissible in court. This includes false witness statements, inaccurate computer data, or physical evidence that was improperly collected. Your lawyer can fight tirelessly to ensure such evidence isn’t used against you.
What if You Didn’t Know You Were Talking to a Minor?
Another common defense for online solicitation is lack of intent. The prosecutor will need to prove that you knew that you were talking to a minor. They must also show that you intended to meet with them as well.
It should be noted that you can be charged with online solicitation even if you never met the “minor” in question. But your attorney may be able to introduce evidence that shows the truth. You had no real intention of meeting up with the person you are accused of talking to online.
What Happens if I Was Role-Playing?
Fantasy and role-playing defenses have become more common as well. It can be a taboo subject. But many people accused of online solicitation were taking on other personas. They hope to discuss fantasies with other like-minded people online. And these chats might be protected by the First Amendment.
Which Defenses Don’t Work for Online Solicitation?
Finally, it is essential to know that under Section 33.021(c), claiming that the meeting did not occur is not a valid defense. However, you can defend against prosecution if:
- The accused was married to the minor at the time
- The accused was not more than three years older than the minor, and the minor consented
Can Online Solicitation Be Free Speech?
There have been various constitutional challenges to this law in recent years. For instance, in 2015, a Texas district court declared the law unconstitutional as a violation of freedom of speech. However, courts have disagreed on the matter, and the legislature amended the law to address constitutionality.
Therefore, an online solicitation of a minor conviction is still possible. Amendments do not apply to charges filed before Sept. 1, 2015. Depending on the facts, it may be possible to present a free-speech challenge, but this is something to discuss with your defense lawyer.
How Can A Defense Lawyer Help?
Law enforcement dedicates significant resources to examining solicitation of minors online. They tend to do so through undercover sting operations. This typically happens in chat rooms or social networking sites where police pose as minors. These operations can take months, if not longer. This means the police usually have long lists of what was said between those involved.
However, online chats can be misunderstood. And officers regularly use tactics to bait suspects into making incriminating statements.
An experienced defense attorney can:
- Identify these discrepancies
- Minimize the impact
- Prevent charges from ever being filed
If charges do move forward, a lawyer will make certain the evidence is assessed thoroughly and fairly. Attorney Barnett is a former prosecutor. When you hire him, he will carefully examine the evidence against you. Then, build an effective defense strategy to help you obtain the best possible result. This may include:
- Hiring expert witnesses
- Negotiating to protect you from jail time or sex offender registration
- Taking your case to trial
Contact The Law Offices of Ned Barnett Today
Have you been arrested or accused of online solicitation of a minor in Houston? It is crucial to contact attorney Ned Barnett right away. Let us review what happened and defend your rights. Attorney Barnett has over 20 years of experience representing people accused of sex crimes. As a former prosecutor, Ned knows how to attack the case.
Attorney Barnett is board certified in criminal law with an exemplary reputation as a local Houston defense lawyer. He was selected as a top-rated attorney in 2015 by Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters service. Ned knows what you’re going through and how devastating these accusations can be. Let us do everything possible to protect you.
Call (713) 222-6767 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.