Under California Penal Code 288.4, it is illegal to arrange to meet a minor (or a person you believe to be a minor) for sexual purposes. The full text of the law is:
288.4 (a)(1) Every person who, motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children, arranges a meeting with a minor or a person he or she believes to be a minor for the purpose of exposing his or her genitals or pubic or rectal area, having the child expose his or her genitals or pubic or rectal area, or engaging in lewd or lascivious behavior, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by both the fine and imprisonment.
(2) Every person who violates this subdivision after a prior conviction for an offense listed in subdivision (c) of Section 290 shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison.
(b) Every person described in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) who goes to the arranged meeting place at or about the arranged time, shall be punshed by imprisionment in the state prison for two, three or four years.
(c) Nothing in this section shall preclude prosecution under any other provision of law.
What does that mean?
First, it is a misdemeanor to arrange a meeting with a minor (anyone under 18) or a person who is believed to be a minor (such as an undercover sting where police pose as children in chat rooms) for sexual purposes. The prosecution would have to prove a sexual interest in children and that the meeting was for the purpose of exposing oneself or the minor or any other sexual conduct with the minor.
If the person has a previous conviction for any of the listed sex crimes in Penal Code 290(c) [they include rape, molestation, possession of child pornography, etc.], then that same arranged meeting can be filed as a felony with up to 3 years in custody.
If the person not only makes an arrangement to meet, but then shows up to actually meet, it is a felony with up to 4 years prison, even without any prior convictions.
This crime has become well-known based on TV programs such as NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” and other sting operations. There are defenses to these charges.
First, the prosecution has to prove a specific sexual intent and a specific act was intended. If the “arrangement” was unclear, they cannot meet the burden of proving the charges. Similarly, if it is unclear that the person was under age (or pretending to be under age), that element of the crime would be missing and the charge would not be proven.
Next, in sting operations like these, you have to examine the case carefully from an entrapment defense standpoint. The police (or anyone operating on behalf of the police) cannot say or do things to entice somebody into this crime. If they cross the line, it is a defense to the charges. For example, if they are the ones pushing for the meeting when you tried to resist, that too can be a defense. The same thing can happen if an undercover officer is the one that keeps initiating contact or is the one that steers the conversation to sexual topics. The entire case and all the relevant communications will have to be examined.
It goes without saying, but if you are under investigation for an offense such as this, you should NOT be making any statements to anyone except your attorney in a confidential setting. Assume everything you say will go straight back to the police. To discuss your situation in more detail, give me a call and we can set up a time to discuss your case.