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Pennsylvania Cops Go Undercover to Catch Sexual Predators of "Children"

Article provided by Patrick J. Artur & Associates
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Across Pennsylvania, there has been a statewide effort to investigate and prosecute Internet sex crimes involving "children." Many medium to large size counties in Pennsylvania have their own task force or unit setting up police officers as decoys. Statewide, these efforts have been spearheaded by state Attorney General Tom Corbett. Corbett first created the Child Sexual Exploitation Task Force to focus specifically on these crimes. In 2005, the task force was replaced by the Child Predator Unit (CPU), whose activities have led to the arrest of more than 250 people in Pennsylvania so far in 2009.

The CPU is composed of eight law enforcement officials and two state prosecutors. Members of the unit run undercover stings to capture alleged sexual predators. They do this by creating on-line profiles in chat rooms and on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. In these profiles, they will pose as underage girls and boys and wait for an adult to contact them. Sometimes the adult immediately propositions the "child" for sexual favors or sends the "child" pornographic images, often of the adult taken with webcams. Other times, the adult may communicate with the "child" several times before engaging in sexually explicit conversations or asking the "child" to meet in-person.

The CPU's undercover operations generally result in one of two types of cases: "stay-put" cases and "traveling" cases. The criminal charges associated with either type of case are very serious; a conviction may result in years in state prison, thousands of dollars in fines, and registration as a convicted sex offender. When an individual is caught up in this type of situation, it is vital to begin working with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

"Stay-Put" Cases

Even if the contact between the adult and alleged child goes no further than communication over the Internet, the adult may be charged with serious felonies, such as unlawful contact with a minor and criminal use of a computer. The new Pennsylvania Criminal Statute, 18 Pa. C.S 6318, specifically prohibits this activity even if the "child" is in reality a police officer who has assumed the identity of a minor. It does not matter that the person the adult was speaking with was not in fact a child. However, the Commonwealth must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the adult believed they were communicating with a child. Depending on the context of the communication and other factors, a conviction could result in a lengthy prison term.

It is also a crime under Pennsylvania state law to send pornographic images to a child over the Internet, whether the images are "home-made" or the adult facilitates the child's visit to a certain pornographic site.

Additionally, there is no longer a fantasy defense under state law. This means that the adult cannot claim he or she was merely engaging in a fantasy, but had no true intentions of carrying out the sexual act with the child. This is not a viable defense to the charges.

"Traveling" Cases

"Traveling" cases refer to instances when the adult sets up a meeting place while communicating on-line or via instant message with someone he or she believes is a child for the purposes of engaging in sexual conduct. The adult may travel across the state to the meeting place, or in some cases, may even enter Pennsylvania from another state. The meeting place may be the "child's" home or a hotel, but also may be a public place, like a fast food restaurant or shopping mall. Once the adult reaches the prearranged meeting place, the police swoop in to arrest the individual.

"Traveling" cases often result in attempt charges depending on what kind of activity the individual proposes in his or her online chat with the "child," such as attempted sexual assault or attempted IDSI (sodomy). Crossing state lines to travel to the meeting spot may result in federal charges. In many of these cases, the individual may arrive at the meeting spot with a so-called "care package," which may contain items such as alcohol, pornography, condoms, illegal or prescription drugs, sexual toys, or bondage paraphernalia. Possession of any of these items could result in additional charges.

Defending Against Sex Crime Charges

The criminal charges associated with "stay-put" and "traveling" cases are very serious and have long-lasting consequences, even if the individual is never convicted of a crime. Unfortunately, given the state and national mania concerning any type of sexual allegation, many people automatically assume guilt before the individual has been given the opportunity to present a defense. Within the criminal justice system, a delicate skill is necessary in representing these individuals before both judges and most especially juries.

By working with an experienced criminal defense attorney, you may be to mitigate the consequences of these allegations. For example, if the police did not follow the proper legal procedures in gathering evidence against you, the charges may be dismissed. In "traveling" cases, the police generally must obtain a search warrant prior to searching an individual's home or vehicle. If they do not have the proper warrant, then the evidence they seized may not be admissible in court.

For more information on defending against a sex crime charge, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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