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It is illegal for any person to encourage, offer, or solicit anything sexual in nature with a minor or someone that person believes to be a minor. Like in many other instances though, the use of technology to facilitate the communication results in a separate and distinct offense.
It has become more and more common for individuals to find themselves involved in an undercover online sting. “To Catch a Predator” made the process a household joke, but the fact of the matter is that Oklahoma law enforcement agents are consistently and competently engaging in undercover operations online.
The officers and agents who conduct these stings are incredibly dedicated and very well-trained. Their goal is to pose as an underage individual and infiltrate a chatroom, application, or message board to snare someone communicating via technology.
In defining “technology,” the Oklahoma Legislature has gone out of its way to include every conceivable manner and method of communicating a message: telephones, cell phones, CDs, DVDs, recording or sound devices, CD-ROMs, VHS tapes, computers, computer networks, Internet or World Wide Web addresses, e-mail addresses, IP addresses, text messages, pagers, and any other video, audio, photographic or camera device or device capable of any transmitting any message, audio, photographic, video, movie, digital or computer-generated image. Surprisingly, they did not include floppy discs, cassette tapes, or 8-tracks specifically.
The violation the prosecution pursues must be a knowing and voluntary act. The knowledge component is integral in these cases. Depending on the circumstances, it would be difficult for the prosecution to convict someone who only accidentally sent a communication meant for their adult partner to a minor. This is because the transmission aspect of the crime has to be knowingly committed. In this example, the person meant to send the communication to an adult, so it can be argued they did not “knowingly” send the communication to a minor. It was merely an accident.
Interestingly though, the age of the person does not have to be “known” by the defendant. In fact, the age of the “victim” only has to be believed by the defendant. Consequently, if a person solicits or sexually communicates with someone that they think is under the age of eighteen (18), they could technically be found guilty of the crime even if the person they solicited turned out to be your average random adult. Although that might seem like an absurd result, the implication is necessary due to the way in which these crimes are investigated.
It is less common these days to see a case in which an actual minor is solicited as opposed to a situation in which an undercover officer poses as a minor online in an attempt to catch a predator. The officer will play along with the defendant, usually asking for images and information as the defendant is ultimately misled into believing the law enforcement agent is actually a minor. In most stings, the undercover officer will eventually set up a meeting with the Defendant. If and when the defendant arrives at the meeting place, they are quickly arrested and interrogated with charges soon to follow.
The fact that an undercover officer is the only person that is “solicited” does not work as a defense. Since the knowledge component only applies to the activity and not the target of the activity, it does not matter that what someone thought was a fourteen-year-old girl actually turns out to be a forty-five-year-old man. In that same vein, many individuals caught in these undercover stings believe that the defense of entrapment is applicable. However, that defense is a legal term of art with various conditions that have to be met based on relevant case law. A skilled attorney can and will determine if and when entrapment has occurred.
Oddly, the crime can also be accomplished by someone knowingly printing, publishing or reproducing any prohibited communication or any information, notice, statement, website, or advertisement for communication with a minor by use of any of the described technology. The statute also contains a provision explaining that, regardless of where the person is actually located, they will be deemed to be within the jurisdiction of the state of Oklahoma for charging purposes so long as they accessed any computer, cellular phone or other computer-related or satellite-operated device in this state
Any person convicted of soliciting sexual communication or conduct with a minor by use of technology will be guilty of a felony offense. They will be subject to level 2 registration as a sex offender. The crime also carries a maximum punishment of ten (10) years incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000.00.