Let’s get one thing straight up front. These sting operations generate far better press coverage for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office than any other alleged criminal activity. Law enforcement officers get to parade around a stage that has been decorated with poster boards filled with mug shots. Admittedly, using the word “child” in the same sentence as “predator” is a highly emotionally charged topic. Nothing would be wrong with this, but for the fact that many innocent men are being swept up in these sting operations because of over zealous law enforcement practices that result in some “bending” of the rules.
Why Police Practices Need to Be Closely Scrutinized
Our law office routinely meets with individuals charged with the offense of “Traveling to meet a Minor.” This is a serious felony criminal offense. Under the Florida Criminal Punishment code, those offenders found guilty of this charge are required to serve a prison sentence in The Florida Department of Corrections. Even a “first time offender” who has never previously been involved in the criminal justice system will score a minimum period of state prison incarceration of twenty-one months. In addition, those convicted will be designated a sex offender and forced to register with the State for a minimum period of twenty-five years.
How We Investigate These Cases
Our investigation of police conduct during Pinellas County sting operations is highly thorough. This includes our review of narrative police reports, audio recordings, videos, transcripts, emails and text messages. Our work likewise entails the questioning of police officers about their tactics while they are under oath during the taking of their deposition. It is not uncommon for us to also employ the services of experts. This includes both polygraph examiners and psychiatrists who have the ability to recognize the difference between a client with a true Pedophilia disorder (deviant sexual behavior with children) versus a client who was in actuality simply looking for adult companionship. It is not uncommon for us to find clients who have absolutely no interest in deviant sexual behavior with children, but were swept up into a sting operation because of law enforcement’s fast and loose tactics designed to yield higher arrest numbers that will support continued federal funding.
Paying the Ultimate Price For a Crime Involving a Fictional Victim
Many people are already familiar with child predator sting operations from watching the television show “To catch a Predator.” Because of this program, NBC experienced a Nielsen ratings bonanza. News correspondent and host Chris Hansen benefited from significant notoriety. At one point, the network surpassed the number of viewers for both “The Office” and Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” That is, until one of the “child predators” who participated in an online conversation with a hypothetical decoy victim, shot himself in the head. Unsurprisingly, NBC thereafter pulled the plug on the show.
Provoking a Law-Abiding Citizen to Commit a Crime
Long before “To Catch A Predator” brought Internet sex sting operations into the limelight, law enforcement was already engaged in this practice. However, police tactics were much different than they are today. In the past, law enforcement would employ an online post that offered up “an underage child” who was available to participate in sexual activity. Naturally, anyone who responded to such an ad would clearly be viewed as having the criminal intent to engage in unlawful activity with a minor.
Today, undercover detectives pose online as adult women. In fact, it is quite common for them to post fictitious adult female photographs and place ads on “adult only” websites. The undercover officer establishes a rapport, engages in common interest online chats and typically a mutual interest is thereafter expressed by each presumed adult. It is only then that the story line changes and the proverbial bait is switched. Suddenly, the male is told that he has been communicating with someone who is, for example, only 14 years of age. It is at this point that the undercover officer goes into overdrive in an effort to persuade the male to nevertheless continue on with the conversation. What’s more, as one judge observed, “the officer controlled the tone, pace and subject matter of online conversation, pushing toward a discussion of sexual activity.”
Inconsistent Information and Confusion May Rule the Day
Undercover detectives will repeatedly steer the conversation back to sexual activity with a minor. Concerted efforts are made to lure the male into committing a felony offense. But to snare a reluctant participant, frustrated detectives will often depart from approved police narratives and procedures. They are often masterful at turning what could be considered innocent conversation into sexual innuendo. Arguably in some cases, the men believe the adult female has switched to “role playing.” Consider what information the male is in possession of:
1. The advertisement was posted on an “adult only” site;
2. The online photograph depicts an adult female;
3. The undercover officer claims that “she” is 18 years old or more, often within the initial posting itself;
4. Only later, does the alleged female change her story and claim she is actually 14 years of age.
Clients will tell us that they agreed to travel to meet up with their new online companion in order to first confirm their age. But, keep in mind that when they are arrested, they are not being accused of having any form of sexual contact with a minor. Only that they “traveled to meet a minor for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.
We are Lawyers Who Can Help!
We are former state prosecutors who possess valuable insight into police tactics that often entail “bending the rules.” If you have been arrested for Traveling to Meet a Minor, we are attorneys who understand the stress, anxiety and apprehension you are experiencing.
Read our comprehensive website page on travelling to meet a minor. This information can help answer many of your initial questions and offers possible defenses and solutions to your problem. If you have been arrested for the offense of Traveling to Meet a Minor in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or the surrounding cities within Pinellas County, we can help. Schedule a free initial consultation to discuss the unique facts and circumstances of your case.
We aggressively defend persons charged with Traveling to Meet a Minor.
Call a Former State Prosecutor!
Related Video Link:
Arrested for Traveling to Meet a Minor in Pinellas County?
Related Site Links:
Pinellas Conducts Third Online Traveling to Meet a Minor Sting Operation
Pinellas Special Victims Unit Arrests 15 During Chat Investigation
Florida Statute Section 847.0135
Understanding Felony Sentencing in Florida
The benefits of Avoiding Publicity After Your Arrest
Who is the Pinellas Judge Assigned to my Case?
Finding the Best Criminal Defense Lawyer