Can You Go to Jail for Talking to a Minor Online in California?
In today’s digital age, it's easy to feel like we have the world at our fingertips. As of 2021, a whopping 85% of Americans uses smartphones. While having the internet in our back pockets can be useful and even liberating, it can also lead to serious criminal penalties.
While our criminal justice system is designed to protect against harm and injustice, no system is perfect. Many well-intentioned people can find themselves on the wrong side of the law without realizing it, and it isn’t common for good people to find themselves in sticky situations.
Cybercrime rates have surged significantly in recent years, as evidenced in a recent FBI report that documented a 300% increase in internet crimes since the onset of the pandemic. From the production and dissemination of child sexual abuse materials to cyberstalking to identify theft, the novelty of this modern technology-driven phenomenon makes it all the more crucial for Californians to stay informed to avoid life-altering consequences in court.
Internet solicitation of a minor is a serious criminal offense that carries harsh consequences if convicted. Keep reading to learn more about what constitutes internet solicitation of a minor in California, the penalties associated with this crime, and how to defend yourself in court.
What Constitutes Internet Solicitation of a Minor?
Internet solicitation of a minor is prohibited under California Penal Code §288-4. A person commits this crime by using the internet to solicit a minor (a person under the age of 18) with sexual intent or purposes.
“Solicitation” refers to communicating with a minor with the intent of luring them into engaging in sexual activity. Such communications aren’t limited to a single type, but can occur through any medium, including the internet, phone calls, text messages, and emails.
While a more obvious inclusion of this crime is the solicitation of a minor for prostitution or lewd behavior, you may be surprised to learn that the offense encapsulates a wider range of sexual acts, such as:
- Sending sexually explicit messages, emails, or texts
- Sending suggestive content or messages via social media, such as through Facebook or Instagram
- Sharing or exchanging sexually explicit photos or video/audio footage online with someone under 18
- Suggesting that you meet with a minor with sexual intent or for sexual purposes
Is soliciting a minor on the internet a felony offense?
It depends. In California, internet solicitation of a minor is considered a wobbler offense, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This is often determined by evaluating the unique circumstances of the offense.
Generally, offenders charged with soliciting a minor online will be charged with a felony if:
- The defendant has a prior sex crime conviction on their record.
- The defendant is already a registered sex offender.
- The defendant actually attended the meeting they suggested.
Can I still be charged with soliciting a minor online even if no in-person meeting occurred?
Yes. It’s crucial to understand that regardless of whether an in-person meeting occurred, you may still be convicted of soliciting a minor on the internet. Even if no physical contact occurred, you can still be charged with this crime. It doesn’t matter whether you attended a meeting or merely suggested it.
However, such factors can enhance the penalties of a conviction and lead to a longer prison sentence and higher fines.
Penalties for Soliciting a Minor Online
Internet solicitation of a minor carries very harsh consequences, as is always the case for any crime involving a minor. Corresponding penalties can vary depending on the severity of the offense, particularly whether it was a misdemeanor or felony.
A misdemeanor conviction for soliciting a minor online is punishable by:
- Up to a $5,000 fine
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Misdemeanor probation
- 10 years as a registered sex offender
A felony conviction for internet solicitation of a minor is punishable by:
- Up to a $10,000 fine
- Up to 3 years in prison
- Felony probation
- Lifetime sex offender registration
In some cases, those convicted of soliciting a minor on the internet may also be required to attend counseling or other rehabilitation programs.
Can a minor be charged with internet solicitation of a minor?
Yes. Technically, a minor may be charged with soliciting another minor on the internet. However, corresponding penalties differ from those faced by adult offenders. Minors convicted of online solicitation will likely face some or all of the following consequences:
- Community service
- Mandatory counseling
- Other court-ordered programs
If you have been accused of internet solicitation of a minor in California, it's important to seek legal counsel immediately. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help strengthen your case and protect your rights throughout the legal process. They can also fight to get the charges against you reduced or dismissed, in addition to negotiating a lesser sentence on your behalf if needed.
No matter what situation you find yourself in, it's important to understand all aspects of internet solicitation of a minor in California so that you can make informed decisions. If you have any questions or concerns about this crime or its associated penalties, call the top criminal defense attorney in the Bay Area to discuss your case.
Attorney Nabiel C. Ahmed can help determine the most effective legal strategy to implement on your behalf and guide your steps to obtain a favorable outcome in court.
Turn to the Bay Area’s Top Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with a crime in California, it’s imperative to turn to a law firm you can trust. As the top criminal defense firm in the Bay area, our nationally recognized team at the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed has extensive experience in a wide range of criminal cases.
From DUI defense to sex crimes to domestic violence, you can count on our skilled legal advocates to aggressively defend your rights. Whether you were unaware of your actions or simply made an honest mistake, being accused of a crime is often terrifying. The penalties of a criminal conviction can impose devastating consequences and jeopardize your future.
Choosing to work with a qualified defense attorney with an in-depth understanding of state and federal law can mean the difference between prison time and walking out of the courthouse as a free person. Don’t risk throwing away the rest of your life by failing to seek the strong defense you deserve.
If you’ve been accused of a crime, you deserve aggressive representation to restore your freedom. Call the Bay Area’s top criminal defense firm at (510) 907-6600 to schedule a free consultation.