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When Is an Online Solicitation Sting Entrapment?

The internet offers us a variety of ways to communicate with others. Unfortunately, it has also become a tool used by law enforcement to catch criminals. Online solicitation stings designed by undercover police officers are becoming more common in the state of Texas. Many of these operations result in numerous arrests and convictions such as the undercover sting that lead to the arrest of 13 people in Houston last September.

In theory, undercover online solicitation stings are created to arrest sexual predators. This may be slightly true, but many undercover online operations happen to people who have been considered pillars of the community. Some people are simply engaged in fantasy play online or never intended to meet the minor at all. 

The majority of offenders charged with online solicitation of a minor never encounter the person they’re speaking to. This is because officers can arrest you even if you never laid a hand on another person. They simply need to have evidence you were planning to meet up with the minor for sexual reasons to make an arrest. 

Some would argue online solicitation stings are unconstitutional and constitute as “entrapment.” Entrapment is the legal defense in which a law enforcement agent induced you to commit a criminal offense. The defense is only viable if there’s proof you wouldn’t acted on the crime if the police officer didn’t prompt you. While this defense is commonly used its implementation is rare when it comes to online solicitation cases. However, it’s not impossible. A skilled attorney can utilize their resources to build a strong entrapment defense.  

How Do Online Sex Stings Work?

Police officers use various techniques to assess if you’re soliciting a minor online. The majority of the time, law enforcement will visit prostitution-related sites or chatrooms. They will typically create a fake profile and chat with the alleged predator so they can compel them into online solicitation.

This isn’t the only method used by law enforcement. Some sting operations set up false websites that advertise child pornography. If the alleged offender solicits for photos or videos, then officers will be able to criminally charge them. These can be incredibly controversial because even falsely promoting child pornography for an undercover sting is illegal. 

Online solicitation stings can also apply to adult sex workers. Law enforcement may use websites such as Craigslist or to lure “johns” into online solicitation. In some cases, police officers will even wiretap phone or in-person conversations to arrest you. Many online solicitation stings for adult prostitutes use officers who are undercover as sex workers.

Are Undercover Predator Stings Unconstitutional?

Many would argue that online sex stings violate constitutional rights. This is why some turn to the entrapment defense when they’re facing online solicitation charges. Entrapment a legal defense stating you were compelled into committing a crime by law enforcement. Unfortunately, Texas law makes it difficult to utilize entrapment for an online solicitation case. 

Under Texas law, it doesn’t matter if the offender was contacted by a minor or a person who’s undercover as a minor. The statute states as long as the offender believes the other person was a minor then they will face criminal charges. 

In fact, Texas Penal Code § 33.021 defines “minor” as a person under the age of 17 or “whom the actor believes to be younger than 17 years of age.” Meaning prosecutors can still convict you even if the other person was falsely promoting themselves as a child.

Implementing an entrapment defense can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. An experienced attorney can assess the charges to see if the entrapment defense would be beneficial. They can apply the entrapment defense if there’s evidence that:

  • If the law enforcement officer wasn’t inducing the solicitation, then the defendant would have never committed the crime; or
  • If tactics used by law enforcement to compel the defendant into online solicitation were considered unlawful or extreme

Basically, if the defendant demonstrates an inclination of soliciting minors or adult sex workers online, then the entrapment defense would be inadmissible. The defense will only work if a skilled attorney can prove the defendant was an average law-abiding citizen who was induced into crime by police. 

An attorney can also prove entrapment if they present evidence the persuasive tactics used by police officers were extreme. The defense may be able to suppress evidence because police officers aggressively pursued defendants with unlawful techniques. 

Texas law is harsh on sexual predators. Fortunately, there are options out there for you. With the right legal counsel, the entrapment defense could help you avoid criminal charges. Even if entrapment doesn’t apply to your charges, other valid legal defenses that could be used to contest your innocence.

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Matt Horak Matt Horak is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization since 2014