The sad reality about most criminal charges is that someone influences them somehow, and this person can be a police officer. If there is insufficient evidence to arrest you for a particular sex crime, especially those that involve minors, police officers might conduct sting operations to find more evidence against you.
Although police sting operations are lawful ways of "catching" lawbreakers, it remains a controversial topic among many people due to the police's influential role in incriminating their suspects. If you end up on the wrong side of the law in Fairfax, VA, or Northern Virginia following a sting operation by the police, reliable attorneys at Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you fight for your freedom and legal rights.
Police stings in sex crimes might be lawful, but it doesn't mean they are right or you are guilty of the alleged offense. Our attorneys will fight for your justice and legal rights through every court process to achieve a desirable outcome.
What You Need to Know About Police Stings in Sex Crimes
Sting operations are typically deceptive operations by the police to catch lawbreakers, for example, drug dealers and those preying on minors. When investigating crimes, especially those involving children, police officers have the authority to conduct a sting operation to "catch" offenders. However, they have to follow the proper guidelines for this undercover operation.
Sting operations by the police are lawful and mainly target specific crimes to reduce their incidences. Sex offenses are some of the most severe crimes that police officers have the authority to conduct sting operations to nab their suspects. Most crime incidents come to the attention of police officers through eyewitness or victim reports.
However, in other crimes like sex offenses, police officers may have to conduct sting operations to gather more evidence against the offender because these cases present unique prosecution challenges. In addition, these crimes occur in private settings where there are fewer chances of an eyewitness observing the actions for proper legal actions.
Police stings in sex crimes mainly target people who prey on children below 18 years to satisfy their sexual desires or business agendas. When dealing with a crime against a minor, police have the authority to be proactive in their investigations because there is a possibility of catching the offenders before the actual crime happens.
Nowadays, with internet availability, police officers can conduct sting operations with ease to "catch" online sex predators or offenders who prey on young children. During an internet-based sex crimes sting operation, the investigating police officers visit various dating sites and chat rooms where they pose or pretend to be children looking for some fun and excitement in their lives.
If a sting operation targets to catch people in the child pornography business, undercover police officers will pose online as sellers or traders of child pornography to attract suspects. Police officers can conduct internet sting operations even in the most trusted websites that most people use almost every day, for example, Facebook, Yahoo, My Space.
The undercover police officers will lure their suspects into talking in sexually explicit language on these chatting platforms before introducing incriminating facts like being under 18 to see if they are willing to proceed with the conversation. During the conversation, the undercover police officer will use several deceptive means to convince you that they are young and willing to engage in sexual activities with you for fun or money.
These deception tricks include the investigating officer sending you photographs of other individuals and lying about their true identity. The ultimate aim of internet police stings in sex crimes is to catch a suspect sex offender interested in meeting a child for sexual encounters or business.
Once you show up at the planned meeting venue, the undercover police officer will be there to arrest you even if you did not engage in any sexual activity with a minor. In an internet-based sex crimes sting operation, the officer does not require evidence to show that you had sexual intercourse with a minor to initiate an arrest.
Even if you didn't engage in an actual sexual activity with a minor, the undercover police officer will arrest you once you show up at the meeting venue because it shows you would engage in sexual activity with a minor.
Your conversation and chats with the undercover officer whom you reasonably thought was underage will act as evidence in court to prove that you had an interest in engaging in sexual activity with a minor. If there is a video or audio recording to prove that you had an interest in engaging in sexual activity with a minor, the officer will use it against you as well.
Possible Sexual Offenses You Could be Subject to After an Arrest in an Internet-Based Sex Crimes Stings Operation
When you fall on the hands of police officers following an internet-based sex crime sting operation, the undercover police officer could accuse you of the following sexual offenses against a minor:
Statutory Rape of a Child
Statutory rape of a child is one of the most severe accusations that you could face following an arrest in an internet-based sting operation by the police. According to the law, a rape case happens when you force another person (female or male) to have non-consensual sex with you. Although using force is the main element of crime element in a rape charge, your case will be different if it involves an underage child.
In a rape case situation where a minor is a victim, the prosecutor will carry a lesser burden of proof to convince the jury that you are guilty of this offense. The core idea behind the child rape accusation against you is that you had sexual intercourse with a young person who is not mentally mature to consent. The court considers a person who is under 13 years incapable of consent.
During your trial, the prosecutor will focus on proving to the jury that you were reasonably aware that the alleged victim was underage and you were willing to engage in sexual activities with him/her.
The court will treat a rape case against an underage severely because this incident can stick to the child's memories for the rest of his/her life. Apart from that, this crime is also associated with social stigmatization, affecting the child's self-esteem and social life.
A conviction for statutory rape of a child could make you subject to a sentence that ranges from five to twenty-five years in the state prison, depending on the facts of your case.
Indecent Liberties With a Minor
Taking indecent liberties with a minor is chargeable as a Class 5 felony offense under VA Code 18.2-370 and 18.2-370.01. You violate these sections of the law if you are over 18 years and you intentionally and knowingly commit any of the following listed sexual acts with a minor below fifteen years of age:
- Propose to a minor to engage in oral, sexual, or anal intercourse with you
- Expose your private parts to a minor who is not your wife or husband or propose the minor to expose his/her private parts (genitals)
- Propose to a minor to rub or feel his/her genital parts or yours
- Persuade or entice a minor to enter a building, room, or perhaps a vehicle to commit any of the offenses mentioned above
When the court finds you guilty of taking indecent liberties with a minor, as mentioned above, you might be subject to a prison term of one to ten years in the state prison. Depending on the jury's discretion, you could also be subject to 12 months in prison and a fine amounting to up to $2,500 for violating section 18.2-370 (A) of Va. Codes Ann.
Additionally, you can also be guilty of taking indecent liberty with a minor when you intentionally receive property, money, or any other kind of reimbursement to persuade or encourage a minor to participate in sexually explicit visual content. A conviction of this offense is also a Class 5 felony offense punishable with an imprisonment term of ten years.
Computer Solicitation of Minors
Under the law, computer or online solicitation of minors is a felony. The crime involves soliciting or persuading a child in an online communication or chatting platform to meet you to engage or participate in sexual acts.
Using a computer or other online communication equipment to lure minors to engage in sexual acts is a severe crime under the law. A conviction for computer solicitation of minors will carry an imprisonment term of five to thirty years in the state prison and a fine amounting to up to $2,500.
As mentioned above, when police officers are conducting an internet-based investigation to “catch” suspects involved in this business, they may pose online as sellers or distributors of child pornography. Child pornography is another crime law enforcement authorities focus on reducing by all means, even if it means conducting sting operations to catch suspects who participate in this immoral business.
Due to the severity of this crime and the age of the person involved, prosecutors have the discretion to file the most severe charge against any suspect involved in a child pornography business. According to the law, it is illegal to possess, produce or distribute child pornography knowingly.
Here is an overview of possible child pornography offenses you could be subject to following an arrest in an internet-based sex crimes sting operation as a suspect:
Possession of Child Pornography
To secure a conviction against you for possession of child pornography, the prosecutor with jurisdiction over your case must prove to the jury that you had depictions of a minor (under 18) engaging in sexual acts.
In this case, the standard of proof should be beyond any reasonable doubt to convince the jury that the allegations against you are true. Even if you didn't have the intent to distribute or sell child pornography you had in possession, the prosecutor could still secure a conviction against you as long as he/she can prove other elements of the crime.
A conviction for possession of child pornography is a Class 6 felony offense that can make you subject to five years in state prison. However, if it is your second conviction for this same offense, your case will be a Class 5 felony.
A subsequent conviction for possession of child pornography materials will make you subject to a maximum of ten years in the state prison. Unlike other offenses discussed below, your intentions are not relevant in a charge involving possession of child pornography.
Production of Child Pornography
Under the law, it is unlawful to knowingly entice, accost, influence, or solicit a child with the intent or motive to convince him/her to perform in a child pornographic film. Typically, it is against the law to do any of the following knowingly:
- Produce or attempt to create child pornographic content
- Take part in the production or creation of child pornographic content
- Finance or take part in the financing of any pornographic content involving a minor
Production of child pornography would be a chargeable and punishable offense even if the alleged fictional child (undercover police) didn't agree to participate in the sexual acts. A conviction for the production of child pornography will make you subject to a prison term of up to ten years in the state prison and a fine amounting to up to $2,500.
Distribution of Child Pornography
You might be guilty of engaging in the distribution of child pornography if the prosecutor has sufficient evidence to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you had this illegal content with the intent to do any of the following:
- Give it away
A guilty verdict against you for engaging or participating in the distribution of child pornography will make you subject to a prison term of five years to twenty years, depending on your unique case's facts and circumstances.
The Unfairness of Internet-Based Sex Crimes Stings by the Police
When law enforcement officers are conducting an internet-based stings operation to lure sexual offenders in their arms, they do not consider the psychological frailty of their suspects. For instance, when some people show interest in someone or something that seems like a legitimate offer, it might be challenging to reverse the course even after receiving different information about the offer.
An internet-based sex crime sting by the police can also be unfair if the defendant or the suspect has psychological issues that make it difficult or challenging to stop a conversation once it begins.
That would be possible if the undercover police officer was persistent in reaching out to you even after going silent on his/her conversation. In that kind of situation, it can be tempting to continue with the conversation and plans to meet up with him/her for sexual acts even if you didn't intend to do so.
Since the alleged victim is just a fictional character existing in this context, it might also be challenging to prove his/her age to the jury if the undercover officer didn't communicate this information to you before the meeting/arrest. Unless the undercover police officer has pieces of evidence to show that you were aware of the fictional victim's age, for example:
- Screenshots of your chats or conversation where he/she was making it clear about his/her age
- A voice or video recording where he/she was talking about his/her age with you
Generally, an arrest following an internet-based sex crimes stings operation can be unfair to suspects of these offenses in many ways. To stay on the safe side of the law after an arrest in an internet-based sting operation, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can.
Retaining the services of a criminal defense attorney is vital when fighting a sex crime allegation that a minor is a subject. Apart from the lengthy prison terms and hefty fines, a conviction for a sex crime that involves a child can also make you subject to lifelong sex offender registration duties if your offense necessitates inclusion in the national sex offender registry.
How an Attorney Can Help You Following an Arrest in Internet-Based Sex Crimes Stings Operation
Moments after an arrest for any criminal offense can be stressful and confusing, especially if it is your first time. After an arrest for any sex crime involving a child in an internet-based stings operation, you should keep a defense attorney by your side to fight for your freedom and legal rights throughout the prosecution process to achieve the best outcome.
Retaining the services of a criminal defense attorney following an arrest in an internet-based sex crimes stings operation is vital for the following reasons:
He/she Will Help You With The Bail Process
To secure your freedom or a release from police custody after an arrest, you may have to post bail. During your first court appearance, known as the arraignment, the judge will allow you to post bail to secure your freedom before your case's final judgment. The amount the court will require you to pay as bail will depend on your unique sex crime facts.
If you don't have sufficient money to pay the required bail amount for your alleged case, your attorney will guide you on alternative ways you post the bail. In that kind of situation, your attorney can help you find a reliable bail bond company within your location to help you post the required bail amount at a reasonable fee.
You don't have to stay in police custody as your case continues because you are not yet guilty of the alleged sex crime involving a minor. Therefore, you will need an attorney to help you on the bail process to secure your freedom before your case's trial or judgment day.
He/she Will Help Counter the Alleged Charges During the Trial
Fighting a sex crime allegation involving a child after an arrest in an internet-based sex crimes stings operation is not easy because law enforcement officers orchestrate and coordinate the events that led to your arrest.
The decision the judge or jury will make regarding your alleged sex crime during the trial hearing can impact your entire life in many negative ways. During your case trial, you will depend on your criminal defense attorney to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the sex crime allegations against you are untrue.
To rebut the entire sex crime case against you, a reliable criminal defense attorney will argue that your arrest was an entrapment, meaning you didn't intend to commit any sex offense against the fictional child. Entrapment is a complete and viable legal defense that can convince the jury to drop your entire case.
When using entrapment as a legal defense in this kind of situation, your criminal defense attorney must convince the judge that your arrest was due to police misconduct. The judge might consider this defense strategy viable and reasonable because it is not uncommon for police officers to trap or lure their suspects into unlawful acts that they didn't intend to commit in the first place.
To convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that your arrest was an entrapment, your defense attorney can argue that:
- You were unwilling to comply or cooperate with the undercover police scheme
- You are unfamiliar with alleged sex crime allegations involving a child
- You don't have any past criminal record or any record of committing these types of crimes
- You were attempting to drop the conversation with the undercover police officer
Entrapment defense can work in your favor to fight criminal allegations against you for a desirable outcome if you are a suspect in sex crimes undercover or sting operation by the police.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Police stings in sex crimes help combat these immoral behaviors within our society, but some undercover operations by the police are unfair and unreasonable. Experienced attorneys at Virginia Criminal Attorney can help you if you or your loved one is in police custody following an arrest in an internet-based sex crimes stings operations by the police.
Call us at 703-718-5533 if you face sex charges in Fairfax, VA, or Northern Virginia to discuss your unique case with our understanding attorneys to prepare proper legal defense tactics to fight for your rights and interests ahead of time.