Law enforcement agencies in South Carolina are focusing increased attention and investigative muscle on alleged child predators. Multiple arrests have been made as part of a multistate sting called Operation Home Alone. In this effort, involving federal, state and local law enforcement, deputies pretend to be underage teenagers using the internet. After an allegedly sexually explicit interaction online, the suspect is arrested upon showing up to meet with the “teenager.”
The York County Sheriff announced the recent arrests of five men accused of seeking underage victims online for sexual activity, adding to 10 busted earlier this year. The Lexington County Sheriff reported rounding up 17 more. Those arrested have now been identified publicly as child predators and face the prospect of prison and forced registration as sex offenders.
South Carolina law makes it a felony offense to use the internet to knowingly contact, communicate with or attempt to communicate with a person under the age of 18 for the purpose of soliciting the person to engage in sexual activity. The crime is committed even if the targeted individual is only believed to be under 18. A conviction of online child solicitation carries a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The same crime exists under federal law. Anyone convicted of using the internet to solicit minors for illegal sexual activity may be sentenced to at least 10 years and as long as life in prison, in addition to being fined. The crime also can be committed by using a smart phone or a landline, sending text messages or mail or emailing obscene material to minors. Moreover, federal appeals courts have repeatedly held that defendants may be convicted even if, unknown to them, the intended target was not a child but an undercover police officer.
A related crime is child pornography, defined as producing, distributing, publicizing, showing or viewing sexually explicit pictures of minors. It also includes using minors or arranging for minors to be used in such productions or making it appear that an identifiable child is performing in them. The punishments for conviction are severe. In South Carolina, violators face up to 10 years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Under federal law, possessing or accessing child pornography with an intent to view it may be punished with a 10-year prison sentence, while using children in pornography can result in 35 years to life.
If you are accused of online solicitation of minors, child pornography or similar crimes, you need a vigorous advocate on your side. I have the skill, experience and commitment required to mount an effective defense. You can reach me to schedule a consultation at my Columbia law office, Jack B. Swerling, Attorney at Law, by calling 800-701-0599 or contact me online.