Internet Crimes/Sex Offenses

Internet Crimes & Sex Crimes Defense Attorney

Larry Sandefer – Sex Crimes & Internet Crimes Defense Attorney

An accusation of a sex crime can have lifetime consequences. A conviction can carry an extended prison sentence. State law provides that even after completing a prison sentence on a sex offense that the State can petition to keep a person in a “sex offender treatment facililty” indefinitely under the Jimmy Ryce Act.  .

That “sex offender treatment” is held at a secure location behind secure fences and locked doors. Additionally, someone convicted of an enumerated sex offense may be labeled a sex offender or a sexual predator and placed on a Statewide website for a minimum of 20 years. Even an accusation of a sex crime can permanently affect and alter your business and personal relationships.

What Constitutes a Sex Offense?

A sex offense can include many types of alleged behavior. Touching a minor in an inappropriate place can be the sex offense of lewd and lascivious behavior or conduct. Any type of sexual penetration of a minor constitutes sexual battery. If the minor is under the age of 12, that offense can be the offense of capital sexual battery carrying a mandatory life sentence. Sexual penetration without consent on an adult or with an adult who is unable to consent can be sexual battery. The degree of crime differs depending on factors alleged as to claiming slight force or great force.   Exposure of sexual organs can be classified as a sex crime and if it is exposure to a minor it can be classified as a felony sex crime.

If you have been arrested for a sex offense

Sex crimes are set forth in Florida statutes. They are mainly found in chapters 794 and 800. A conviction for sex offense can not only mean time in prison, or probation either instead of or in addition to prison, and other criminal penalties, but a lifetime listing on the sex offender registry.

Types of sex crimes

Sex crimes in Florida include:

Sexual battery (F.S. 794.011), Capital Sexual Battery

Sexual battery was formerly known as rape. Under Florida statute this can be committed in different ways, but it normally involves some type of penetration or “union with” sexual organs. If the alleged victim is under the age of 12 a sexual battery becomes a capital felony. A capital felony is punishable by a mandatory sentence of from 25 years to life.

Lewd or lascivious battery (F.S. 800.04)

A lewd or lascivious battery occurs when a person engages in sexual activity with a person older than 12 but less than 16 years of age or encourages any other act involving sexual activity. This is a felony of the second degree punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Lewd or lascivious molestation (F.S. 800.04)

A lewd or lascivious molestation occurs when a person touches a person less than 16 years of age in a lewd manner or forces that person to touch him or her in a lewd manner. If the alleged victim is less than 12 years of age the offense is more serious.

Unlawful sexual activity with certain minors (F.S. 794.05)

A person 24 years of age or older who engages in sexual activity with a person either 16 or 17 years of age commits a felony of the second degree, punishable by up to 15 years in state prison. There are aggravating factors to this offense.

Other sex crimes against children (F.S. 827.071)

Florida statutes cover acts which are defined as “deviate sexual intercourse”, “sexual conduct”, “sexual performance” and other acts which if performed upon her in the presence of a minor are crimes.

Internet sex crimes (F.S. 847)

The Internet has become widely used and as a result has also become a tool of law enforcement to locate those who possess or download child pornography or commit acts which are considered sex offenses by use of the Internet. Is unlawful for a person to knowingly possess materials that the depict a minor engaged in any act or conduct that is harmful to minors including sexual conduct.
Knowledge is very generally defined. Ignorance of a minor’s age or the misrepresentation of his or her age is generally not a defense to a sex crime. Internet sex crimes include such things as exposing minors to harmful motion pictures or sending sex photos to a minor.  A minor can also be charged with sex crimes against another minor.

Possession of child pornography on a computer

Florida has passed specific statutes which are entitled “computer pornography and child exploitation prevention act.” It is illegal for a person to use a computer or online service to attempt to solicit or seduce the child regarding a sex act. Is illegal for a person to travel to meet a minor for the purpose it of engaging in any illegal act described in the Florida statutes regarding sexual conduct. Sharing of child pornagraphy with other persons is illegal.
Defenses are available to the charge of possession of child pornography on a computer. Simply because material is found on a computer does not mean that the person knowingly put that material on their computer. It is possible for material to get onto a computer unknown to that computer operator. Items may be stored on a computer, and materials once stored generally cannot be thoroughly deleted. There are legal distinctions between erotica and pornography. This can involve many aspects of photographic and video materials located on a computer. An experienced Internet pornogrpahy defense attorney, such as Sandefer Law Firm, should be familiar with these distinctions in a legal and factual context. We have access to computer experts who can assist us in legal issues involving how materials get onto a computer, where they are stored, as well as the legal distinctions of erotica and pornography.

Traveling to Meet a Minor

       Sting Operations

Local law enforcement agencies have partnered with other agencies, such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Pinellas Sheriff’s Office, Pasco Sheriff’s Office, Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, Clearwater Police, and the Polk County Sheriff to perform “Sting” operations to arrest people who are on the internet and communicating with persons who they may think, or who are claiming to be, minors about meeting for a sexual encounter.  This is called Traveling to Meet a Minor, and Florida Statute 847.0135 makes it illegal to for anyone to travel to have an illegal sex act with a minor.  Local law enforcement and the State Attorney’s office take these types of cases very seriously.  Periodically, the agencies will set up sting operations where the officers will go on line and pretend to be minors and try to get people to agree to come to them trying to get them to believe they are a minor wanting to engage in a sexual act.     These sting operations get extensive press coverage and the officers get to show mugshots of arrested subjects and announce that they have ‘caught’ sex offenders.  These sting operations are  legal and make for good publicity for law enforcement.  The problem with the sting operations is that they may sweep up innocent people because of police practices that may go too far and rule bending and improper ‘enticement’.

Under Florida Law, people convicted of these  offenses are required to serve prison sentences, even if they have never been arrested before.  Our office investigates each case thoroughly.  We listen to the phone calls, review all of the texts and emails carefully, and take the deposition of the officers involved in the sting.  Tactics used, and words used are critical to defense of these cases. Is the person looking for adult companionship and ‘tricked’ or swayed during the communications, or is he actually interested in sexual behavior with children?  Were the police tactics misleading and designed and geared toward an arrest no matter what the intent was?   Often police will post things on an adult only site and after getting engaged in a conversation with someone, suddenly ‘reveal’ that they are a minor. They may even post a photo of a minor as their own, and ask for one in return.  Then they ask the person to keep talking.  A question arises often as to whether a person actually thinks it is a minor or are they now into role playing.  People who have been accused or arrested often tell us that when they traveled, they wanted to confirm that the person was an adult before they interacted, but by then it was too late. The police usually arrest just upon the arrival of their target and intent becomes the issue.  In those cases the emails and communications are critical to the case and the defense as well as whatever statements the officers get or indicate that they get from the person arrested..   A person’s mental status can be a valuable defense tool, or a person who has certain types of  mental disorder that may come in to play, and even IQ issues may come in to play..    Experts may be advisable in some instances.

People often ask how can this be a crime against children when it was not a real child, but a police officer pretending to be a child, in essence lying.   By law, the person who pretends to be a minor does not have to actually be a minor for someone to be guilty of traveling to meet a minor if they are traveling to have sex with who they believe is a minor.

As a former state prosecutor and supervisor and a sex crimes defense attorney for over 30 years Larry Sandefer has dealt with these accusations and arrests numerous times and has handled as well motions and jury trials regarding child sex crimes.

Other sex crimes

Other types of sex crimes with which we have experience include indecent exposure, prostitution, sale of obscene material, sexting, and other listed offenses. Many of these constitute misdemeanors but many are felonies.

Other Defenses to sex crimes and Defending Charges of Sex Crimes involving Minors

It is important if you or someone you know is facing a sex crime offense or Internet sex crime offense in Pinellas County, Pasco County, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, or the surrounding areas that you or they contact an experienced sex crimes defense lawyer and discuss your case with that lawyer. Larry Sandefer is an experienced Pinellas County sex crimes defense attorney who has defended sex crimes throughout Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and the surrounding areas.
There are defenses available to sex offenses. Many of these defenses are similar to defenses and other criminal cases which may involve search warrants, the legality of a search, vehicle stop issues, consent searches or other search issues as well as other proof matters.  The burden of proof of a sex offense is always upon the state. That burden of proof is beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt. The state attorney may bring charges based only upon the statements of witnesses. Physical evidence is not required in order to bring a charge. Many charges of sexual battery or conduct involving lewd and lascivious molestation allegations may not be accompanied by physical evidence. This is particularly true in late reported incidences where someone claims that he or she was molested or touched improperly.  It is possible that the state may bring forth evidence such as DNA, or medical evidence. This type of evidence can be challenged and you should seek the advice and help of an experienced sex crimes defense attorney.  Was the DNA placed by the defendant or was it transferred by another or during the investigation or forensic process.  Are marks or injuries due to sexual contact or some other reason.  Credibility is always important in accusation cases, as  is possible motive to fabricate, or mental issues of the complainant.

False child abuse or sexual abuse allegations are matters we deal with on a regular basis. Sandefer Law Firm has access to experts and investigators to assist in the full preparation and defense of your case. These experts are in various specialties including false child sexual abuse allegations, false sex offense allegations, medical experts regarding child sex abuse and child abuse, false confessions, DNA, medical doctors, psychologists, and other experts whose opinions can be of value in defense of your case. Larry Sandefer attends numerous continuing legal education courses in sex offenses, Internet offenses, and child pornography.
Other evidentiary matters that apply to sex cases involving children may be the child hearsay law. In some cases statements made by a child to another person may be entered as evidence in the case. In other types of charges not involving children, those might be considered hearsay and be inadmissible.  Florida statutes allow certain types of statements under the child hearsay exception to the hearsay laws.. Sandefer Law Firm is experienced in child hearsay cases and has litigated child hearsay issues and successfully fought admissibility of child hearsay statements.

Similar fact evidence, also known as Williams rule evidence, is often sought to be admitted by the prosecution in child sex offense cases. The rules for admission of similar fact evidence are more lenient than rules for admission of similar fact evidence in other types of cases. Admission of a prior act involving another alleged victim can be devastating. It is important that you consult with an attorney who is familiar with aggressively fighting the introduction of similar fact evidence and the grounds that may be used to keep it out.  The credibility of witnesses and the credibility of child hearsay witnesses is a matter that needs to be addressed in every case and you should speak to your attorney about those matters.  The age of a defendant in the age of the victim can play a large role in determining the possible outcome of a charge involving sex offense. Even though the age may not be a defense, it may be a mitigating factor in negotiations.

Larry Sandefer is a former prosecutor in Pinellas and Pasco County where he was not only a Lead Trial Attorney but a Division Director. It is the prosecutors presently in those positions who are going to make critical decisions in charges, reducing charges, dropping charges, and in sentencing recommendations. Larry Sandefer has been in those positions and knows what goes into those decisions. These are things which Larry Sandefer dealt with both as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. He is an experienced sex crimes defense attorney and the first attorney in the 6th Judicial Circuit of Florida (PInellas and Pasco Counties) to attain Board Certification as a Criminal Trial Law Specialist.

Talking to law enforcement–To talk or not to talk

The chief purpose of law enforcement contacting a person is to interview them to try to obtain admissions and evidence. Often the opening line is something like it is best for you to just tell us what happened, and to try to be a ‘friend’. By the time this request to speak with a person occurs, law enforcement has already spoken with the person making the accusation or has already accessed computer information and has knowledge of material that they believe is on a computer or of an act involving a child that they likely believe occurred. It is never advisable to talk with a law enforcement officer without first consulting with an experienced child pornography defense attorney or sex crimes defense attorney.  This is true whether someone committed an offense or is wrongly suspected.
Do not assume that you can convince a detective of your lack of knowledge or that you did not do something. The law may be, and probably is, drastically different than you believe it is. Consent is quite often irrelevant to a defense. Lack of knowledge of person’s age, similarly, is normally not relevant to a defense. If a person is incapable of consenting by either a mental defect or the particular state of mind they are in at the time, this also may not be a defense to a sexual act. This can be true also if the alleged victim has had too much to drink or is under the influence of a narcotic or drug, even if that was induced by the alleged victim their self.  Sex Offenses are serious accusations, do not go it alone!

The initial consultation at Sandefer Law Firm is free and is strictly confidential.

Penalties for sex offenses in Florida

Penalties for sex offenses in Florida, especially offenses involving children, are extremely harsh.  Most offenses, if a person is convicted as charged, call for a  prison sentence under Florida’s sentencing code. Some offenses called for a mandatory minimum sentence. Most sex offenses require registry as either a sex offender or a sexual predator for life. It may be possible to avoid these penalties or designations in your case.  Sex offense cases must be dealt with carefully and often differently than other types of charges.  You should consult with an attorney who has handled many of these cases over a period of time.  Not all attorneys are the same.   Call us, come in for appointment.

Our motto is “When experience counts, count on experience.”  We are here for you.

 

Larry Sandefer – Criminal Defense Attorney

  • Over 30 Years Courtroom Experience
  • Former Lead Trial Lawyer & Division Director
  • Over 5000 Criminal Cases Handled
  • Hundreds of Jury Trials as sole or lead counsel
  • We are your Pinellas County Sex Crimes Defense Attorney, your Pasco County Sex Crimes Defense Attorney, your Clearwater Sex Crimes Defense Attorney, and your St. Petersburg Sex Crimes Defense Attorney. We also defend cases in Hillsborough County and throughout the state of Florida as needed.