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Traveling to Meet a Minor

Everything You Need to Know About Traveling to Meet a Minor Charges in Florida

 Almost everyone has heard of sting operations. They are frequently portrayed on TV’s criminal procedure series like Law & Order, Criminal Minds, and CSI. Sting operations involving children are even more widely portrayed, garnering enough attention for entire reality shows like NBC’s To Catch a Predator. During these sting operations, law enforcement will pretend to be children online in order to uncover sexual predators. However, in real life, law enforcement can be a bit too hasty and cast such a wide net that they pick up innocent people who did not intend to meet or interact with a minor child. These sting operations can often result in charges for “traveling to meet a minor child.”

The Statute

Pursuant to Florida Statute 837.0135(4), it is a criminal act to travel to meet a minor for unlawful sex. It is defined as traveling any distance within, to, or from Florida in order to engage in unlawful sex with a child after using electronic devices or online services to lure, entice, seduce, solicit, or otherwise persuade the child to engage in unlawful sex. Under the statute, a “child” refers to anyone who is less than 18 years old and whose identity is known or unknown.

The relevant section of the statute states:

(4) TRAVELING TO MEET A MINOR.—Any person who travels any distance either within this state, to this state, or from this state by any means, who attempts to do so, or who causes another to do so or to attempt to do so for the purpose of engaging in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child after using a computer online service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to:

(a) Seduce, solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to engage in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child; or

(b) Solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to solicit, lure, or entice a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child or a person believed to be a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child to consent to the participation of such child in any act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in any sexual conduct, commits a felony of the second degree….

What Does the State Need to Prove?

In order to prove the offense of traveling to meet a minor, the State must prove the following four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You knowingly traveled within the state,
  2. For the purpose of engaging in an illegal act which violates chapters 794, 800, or 827 of the Florida Statutes, or other unlawful sexual contact with the child after using a computer or other electronic device that can transmit messages to a child, and
  3. The victim was a child, or you believed they were a child, and
  4. You lured, enticed, seduced, solicited, or otherwise persuaded or attempted to persuade to engage in the illegal act or unlawful sexual conduct.

The Penalties

This crime is classified as a second-degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison, fifteen (15) years of probation or community control, and a $10,000 fine.

According to Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code, traveling to meet a minor is a Level 7 offense. This means that, unless grounds exist for a downward departure sentence, a judge must sentence a person convicted of this crime to a minimum sentence of twenty-one (21) months in prison.

Interestingly, each episode, or contact, can constitute a separate criminal offense. Therefore, if you used your laptop five different times to contact a minor, or someone believed to be a minor, in order to talk about engaging in unlawful sexual contact, you could be charged with five separate counts of traveling to meet a minor.

Defenses to Traveling to Meet a Minor Charges

Intent

The State has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you traveled to meet a minor solely for sexual contact or purpose. If your intention was to meet a minor for reasons other than sexual contact, then you do not have the requisite intent necessary for the State to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Entrapment

Entrapment is defined as a government agent or law enforcement officer inducing a person to engage in criminal activity that the person was not otherwise going to commit. In order to examine whether this defense is applicable, some issues have to be closely analyzed, such as:

  • Who started the conversations regarding unlawful sexual contact;
  • How persistent the government agent or officer was about committing the unlawful sexual contact;
  • Instances of you not wanting to go forward with the conversation or not agreeing to the commission of unlawful sexual contact;
  • Your sexual interest as expressed to the officer or agent.

However, Florida’s jury instruction 11.17(d) for traveling to meet a minor states that the “mere fact that an undercover operative or law enforcement officer was involved in the detection and investigation of this offense shall not constitute a defense from prosecution.”

  • No Enticement, Luring, Seduction, Solicitation, or other Persuasion

If you did not engage in the enticement, luring, seduction, or solicitation of the minor child, then you cannot be convicted of the crime. It is an essential element of traveling to meet a minor, and each word has a legal meaning that must be proven by the State in order to substantiate the charges.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one has been charged with traveling to meet a minor, or another Florida crime, contact a qualified Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to explore your options. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against sexual criminal charges and will ensure every defense possible is explored in your favor. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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