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Internet sex crime penalties may be harsher than actual assaults

Today’s story raises the question of whether some ideas might be better left in the realm of criminal justice theory, rather than applied in actual practice.

Readers of this blog know that Internet sex crimes can implicate serious penalties, including fines and long sentences. The offense of traveling to meet a minor generally includes actual travel, after unlawful Internet communications with a child under the age of 18. However, online communications -- without more -- may also constitute a sex crime, generally called enticing a minor.

A recent article observes that many jurisdictions impose harsher penalties for online sexual communications with a minor, compared to the sentence that may result from actual sexual assault of a minor. The author used a recent arrest of a 55-year-old man as context.

The man had been communicating with an undercover agent, posing as a 15-year-old boy, in response to an ad on Craigslist. The communication consisted of texts, emails and photographs exchanged over a three-day period. The exchange ended in plans to meet at a local drug store. When the man arrived, local police arrested him and charged with a felony sex crime. If convicted, the crime carries a five-year minimum sentence.

Yet if the man had actually had followed through on his plans and engaged in sex with the boy, the accompanying charge would not have a mandatory minimum sentence. A sex crimes attorney might use this very discrepancy in sentencing while negotiating with prosecutors. However, many law officials uphold the sentencing enhancement for computer-based sex crimes, believing them to require more calculation than in-person solicitation.

Source:, “Should penalty for enticing a minor be harsher than for actual assault?” Bruce Vielmetti, Oct. 13, 2013

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