Internet Sting Operations in St. Petersburg, Florida, FL

St. Petersburg Online Child Solicitation Sting Defense Lawyers 

Child solicitation crimes lead to harsh penalties, especially if they include a minor child or the crime was committed within 1,000 feet of a school. Computers have been utilized more frequently in child solicitation and other related sex crimes, which is why law enforcement in Florida has been cracking down on Internet misdemeanors and felonies using Internet sting operations.

If you have been accused of solicitation using the Internet, a computer, or any other electronic device, contact Musca Law. We offer a free consultation, and our phone lines are open 24/7.

Internet Solicitation Charges and Penalties in St. Petersburg

The Florida legislature created new laws and penalties for adults who meet with minor children after a solicitation has transgressed. If a person 18 years of age or older travels to meet a child with the intent of sexual activity, he or she is committing a second-degree felony. Punishments for a second-degree felony offense include up to 15 years in state prison and legal fees.

Internet Sting Operations in St. Petersburg

Internet sting operations are prevalent in St. Petersburg and can lead to severe consequences for those engaged in these practices. Musca Law is experienced with the special tactics used by law enforcement officers during sting operations, and our attorneys have the requisite skills necessary to defend those facing charges related to Internet stings.

What is a Sting Operation?

Internet sting operations are also known as "sex stings," are operations in which police officers impersonate children, adults offering threesomes or group sex encounters with their relatives under 18 years of age, or adults are supposedly looking for recreational or educational sexual arrangements to catch perpetrators looking for illegal sexual encounters with a child. The operations are often carried out on dating websites, internet chatrooms, instant messaging apps, social media, or other online platforms.

Sting operations may conjure up memories of the hit television show "To Catch a Predator," which ran on NBC for many years. The show caught adults (usually adult men) who used internet chatrooms to chat with children. A meetup would often be arranged, and when the suspects appeared at the agreed-upon place, the suspects is then confronted by the show's host and police officers. The shows made for good TV but also ruined many people's lives.

Police sting operations in real life are very similar to the television show. Police officers use the Internet to engage in communications with adults while posing as young children. The communications that usually progress to a sexual nature often involve the exchange of sexually explicit photographs or videos or arranging a time to meet to engage in sexual acts. At some point, the officers make the arrest.

Use of Sting Operations in St. Petersburg

Florida police officers have built a reputation for initiating sting operations to arrest adults for child sex crimes. In November 2019, law enforcement officers arrested 17 men in Central Florida in a sting operation. The arrests were widely publicized, particularly the Disney World employees, the former middle school assistant principal.

Since 2011, law enforcement officers in Sarasota County, Florida, have arrested approximately 133 people using Internet sting operations. The officers state they use the sex sting operations to catch adults seeking to harm young children and to discourage others who might do the same. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office has stayed committed to the practice, notwithstanding concerns about its legalities and despite one arrestee's suicide back in 2019 immediately after the man bonded out of jail.

These law enforcement practices are not limited to a few regions of Florida but happen throughout the state. Our lawyers know how internet sting operations are carried out, and we understand how to fight the charges. In many law enforcement cases, the police officers involved in sting operations lure people into committing crimes they might not have committed. An arrest connected with a sting operation can bring turmoil to families and mean severe consequences if the state wins a conviction.

You must have an experienced St. Petersburg sex sting operation defense lawyer if you are facing charges connected with a sex sting. The attorneys at Musca Law can help you know your rights and defend your liberties.

Charges and Penalties Associated with St. Petersburg Internet Sting Operations

Many charges could follow an internet sting operation. State Prosecutors will file several sex crimes in the charges, depending on the circumstances of the sting and acts that happened while the defendant was engaging with an undercover police officer. Every crime carries a separate potential punishment as prescribed by Florida law. In addition to the penalties outlined below, most sex crimes in Florida require sex offender registration.

Solicitation of a Minor (Lewd and Lascivious Conduct) in St. Petersburg

An individual might be charged with solicitation of a minor or lewd and lascivious conduct after an internet sting operation in Florida. Florida Statute §800.04, lewd or lascivious conduct includes intentionally soliciting a minor to engage in a lewd or lascivious act or touching a child in a lewd or lascivious way.

The statute does not indicate what the terms "lascivious" and "lewd" mean, but jury instructions explain that the terms are interchangeable and mean something sensual, wicked, lustful, or unchaste. The law is understood to mean sexual acts.

Solicitation of a minor and lewd or lascivious conduct is charged as second-degree felonies or third-degree felonies in Florida, according to § 800.04, depending on the age of the offender. If the accused is 18 years of age or older, the crime becomes a second-degree felon, which carries a punishment of a $10,000 fine and 15 years in prison. If the defendant is under the age of 18, the crime is a third-degree felony and carries a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.

Traveling to Meet a Minor in St. Petersburg

Florida law also recognizes a distinct crime of "traveling to meet a minor," which involves a defendant who travels any distance to meet a child for the intention and purpose of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct. This is the type of circumstance often involves internet stings, as law enforcement officers attempt to set up a meeting with the sting targets.

Florida Statute § 847.0135 explains that traveling to meet a minor involves:

  • Traveling.
  • Causing another person to travel.
  • Attempting to cause another person to travel to meet a child to engage in a sexual act.
  • Attempting to travel.

The traveling follows the acts of enticing, luring, seducing, or soliciting a child to engage in a sexual act through the use of an Internet service, computer service, bulletin service, or any other electronic device.

The law does not require that an actual child be involved. Florida Section 847.0135 states if the defendant believes the person he or she is traveling to meet is a minor. It is also unnecessary for any unlawful sexual acts to take place. Florida law states it is enough that the acts are solicited or that the act of traveling to meet has been attempted. This is how individuals can be arrested in Florida during Internet sting operations when they have never truly talked to a child and have never engaged in a sexual act with a minor.

Traveling to meet a child in Florida will be charged with a second-degree felony. The penalty for a conviction can be a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison.

Solicitation of a Minor Using a Computer or Electronic Device in St. Petersburg

Florida law also identifies a separate crime of soliciting a minor by use of an electronic device or computer service. Under Florida Statute § 847.0135, an adult cannot use a computer service, an internet service, a bulletin service, or any electronic device with transmission and storage capabilities to entice, solicit, lure, or seduce a minor to engage in sexual conduct. Florida law also includes attempts to do the same.

Again, it is unnecessary that an actual minor be involved or that an actual act occurs. Not all Internet sting operations involve meetups, but a law enforcement officer is able to make an arrest as soon as a person even attempts to solicit an undercover officer.

Solicitation of a minor through an internet service or a computer will be charged as a third-degree felony in Florida punished with up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Lewd and Lascivious Battery in St. Petersburg

An individual might be charged with lewd and lascivious battery after a sting operation in Florida. Section 800.04 says that a person commits lewd and lascivious battery when they engage in a sexual act with a child between the ages of 12 and 15 or forces, entices or encourages a child younger than 16 to engage in sexual acts, including prostitution, bestiality, and sadomasochistic abuse.

Lewd and lascivious battery will usually be charged as a second-degree felony in Florida, punishable with a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison. However, if the defendant has a prior conviction for any of the following, the charges will be raised to a first-degree felony:

  • Sexual battery
  • Kidnapping of a child involving sexual battery
  • False imprisonment of a child involving sexual battery
  • Computer pornography
  • Lewd or lascivious offenses involving elderly or disabled persons
  • Traveling to meet a minor
  • Lewd or lascivious offenses involving a child younger than 16
  • Solicitation of a minor using a device or computer service

A first-degree felony is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 30 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Charges Involving Parents, Guardians, and Custodians

Florida Statute Section 847.0135 includes solicitation of parents, guardians, and custodians of children. It is illegal to solicit a child for sexual acts, it is a crime to solicit or attempt to solicit a minor's parent, custodian, or guardian, into granting consent for the child to engage in a sexual act. Florida Statute Section 847.0135 also states that it is enough for the defendant to believe that the person is the guardian, parent, or custodian of a child.

Some law enforcement Internet sting operations involve police officers posing as guardians, parents, or custodians and talking to adults on the Web about allowing their children to engage in sexual acts. The crime may be charged as a second-degree felony or a third-degree felony, depending on the circumstances involved.

Defenses to Charges Resulting from Florida Internet Sting Operations

There are many legal defenses are available in online sex sting operation cases, such as entrapment. Internet child solicitation sting operations are highly controversial because of the propensity to lure innocent people into committing child solicitation crimes that they would not have committed without being lured by the sting. The other legal defenses may include illegal search and seizure, lack of intent, and insufficient evidence.

Entrapment in Online Child Solicitation Sting Operations

Entrapment is a technique used by law enforcement to induce a potential offender to commit a criminal offense when the individual would have otherwisenot comitted. Legal defenses of entrapment by law enforcement have also evolved overtime through case law. there are two competing texts that exist to determine whether the defendant was entrapped by law enforcement: Subjective and Objective. The Subjective Test considers the defendant's state of mind. Entrapment could exist when the defendant did not have a "predisposition" to commit the crime. The Objective Test considers the government's conduct. Entrapment might exist if the actions of law enforcement could have induced any ordinary law-abiding citizen to commit the crime.

Child sex solicitation online sting operations cases also involve defendants who "backed out" of meeting the child or the suspect expressed discomfort with speaking to a child but were later arrested because the undercover officer persisted to lure in the adult. Other child sex solicitation cases involve police officers using adult online dating websites to initiate conversations with adults, after which the officers change the age on the sting operation's dating profiles. These tactics "push the line," and the individuals targeted by law enforcement should stand up for their legal rights. Your child sex solicitation defense attorney in St. Petersburg, Florida, will closely review at all of the actions and strategies used in the sting operation to determine if the law enforcement committed entrapment.

Lack of Intent in Internet Child Solicitation Sting Operations

Intent matters a lot in sex crimes cases, and this topic should be reviewed as a possible legal defense. The prosecution is required to prove every key element of the sex crime. If intent is one key element required, and you or your loved one did not act with the requisite intent, the criminal charges could be successfully fought. In Internet child solicitation for sex sting operation cases, the defendant must have believed that he or she was communicating with a child and must have communicated with the child usuing some level of lewd, sexual, or lascivious intent.

Illegal Search and Seizure in Online Child Solicitation Sting Operations

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement officers may not conduct unlawful searches or seizures. Should law enforcement officers carry out a search or seizure without a court sanctioned warrant or in another illegal manner, the defendant's defense attorney should move to suppress associated seized evidence as a violation of your Fourth Ammendment Constitutional rights. If you made statements during the investigation without the required steps from law enforcement, your defense attorney should move to have your statements removed from the prosecution's evidence. This could involve statements made to law enforcement without being informed of your Miranda rights or making a statement after you have asked to have an attorney present, but were not been given the opportunity to contact an attorney.

Insufficient Evidence in Internet Child Solicitation Sting Operations

Many criminal cases stemming from child sex solicitation sting operations conducted over the Internet come down to the prosecution's burden of proof. The prosecution must to prove each and every element of the criminal case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution fails to prove these key elements of a crime, the defendant should be acquited. It is important to always remember that you are innocent until proven guilty, and it is the state's attorneys job to prove your guilt, not your job to prove your innocence. Your legal defense should cast doubt on and attack the credibility of the state's case.

Your defense attorney should review all possible defenses in your criminal case to determine which defense strategy should be employed and how the defense should be raised. Your criminal defense lawyer will probably file motions before and during trial to try and have the charges dismissed or exclude certain evidence. Legal defenses in your case may include one or more of the afforementioned defenses or your attorney may devise be different defense strategy depending on the circumstances involved in the child soliciation sting operation, the nature of the criminal charges, and your criminal history.

Free Case Review with Our St. Petersburg Child Soliciation Defense Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been charged with child solicitation using the Internet, speak with one of our best St. Petersburg child Soliciation Defense Lawyers as soon as possible. Protect your future, reputation and freedom intact with the help of our online child solicitation sting defense lawyers in St. Petersburg, Florida. Call us 24/7 at (727) 513-8080 or visit our firm located at 111 2nd Ave NE Suite 912, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Musca Law
111 2nd Ave NE Suite 912
St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Phone: (727) 513-8080
Hours: Open now: Open 24 hours

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