In the past year there have been numerous local undercover operations wherein detectives pose as underage females seeking sex on the internet. Many of the ads are posted on Craigslist or similar sites. They typically begin with a posted ad stating the poster is home alone, bored and looking for something to do. The initial ad sometimes also states the poster is a female anywhere from 12 to 14 years old, although sometimes their purported age is not disclosed until later.
After making initial contact with the poster, a texting dialog usually follows. It can be brief or run for several hours or even days. The poster will send and also ask for a photo. During the dialog, sex is discussed. A time and place to meet is also established. When the responder arrives to meet the poster, they are then detained by numerous officers, interviewed without a lawyer present, arrested and their vehicle is then taken and subject to forfeiture. They are then transported to the jail and face a high bond, sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, in order to get out while their case is pending.
According to a recent article in The Florida Times-Union, a few weeks ago yet another one of these stings, designated “Operation Cruel Summer” occurred in St. John’s County. The operation involved the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office, sheriffs’ offices from St. Johns, Putnam, Duval and Okaloosa counties as well as police departments from St. Augustine Beach, Orange Park and Gainesville. It resulted in the arrest Friday of 17 men ages 19 to 60 years old.
These stings typically result in all, or some combination of, the following felony charges: use of a computer to solicit, seduce or lure a child for sex; travelling to meet a minor for sex; transmitting information harmful to minors; and unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Some of these charges are second degree felonies punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Others are third degree felonies punishable by a maximum of 5 years in prison.
The State approaches these types of cases very seriously. While the maximum penalties generally are not imposed on first offenders if you have a significant criminal history, especially involving other sex crimes, then the State might well seek to maximize your prison time. Regardless of your criminal history, depending on the particular circumstances of your case, the State may seek substantial jail or prison time, and require you to both be convicted of one or more felonies and to register as a sex offender. All of these conditions can be devastating to your employment prospects and living circumstances going forward.
Despite the State’s generally harsh approach to child sex exploitation cases, an attorney with experience in these types of cases can best help minimize the effects of your arrest. For example, in many such cases we’ve gotten charges dropped to minimize our clients’ exposure. In other cases we’ve minimized the damage to our clients by using consulting forensic psychologists to demonstrate their behavior in this situation is not how they normally act and they are generally not sexually attracted to underage girls and are therefore at low risk of reoffending. These strategies often result in avoiding felony convictions, prison time and / or sex offender registration as part of the case disposition.
If you’ve been arrested for allegedly seeking sex with an underage girl in Duval, Nassau, Clay or St. John’s Counties, you should retain a capable Jacksonville criminal lawyer to give you the best chance of avoiding severe penalties, including prison time, felony convictions and sex offender registration as a result of your arrest.