Internet Sex Crimes + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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The Internet is the latest frontier for law enforcement officials. The majority of Internet sex crimes involve people who are underage, dealing in videos of child pornography, or using the Internet to set up sexual contacts with children. Approximately 2,500 people are arrested every year in the US for Internet sex crimes involving minors. About 25% of those arrests involve officers working undercover.

Child pornography has exploded since the Internet was born in the mid 1990s. Child pornography can be found through all types of Internet technology today, including websites, email, IMs, newsgroups, bulletin boards and social networks.

Internet Sex Crime Laws

Both federal and state laws make it a crime to engage in any type of sexual-related contact with a minor, who is under the age of 18, on the Internet. This includes sending photographs, texts, emails or any form of communication that is sexual in nature.

Federal and state law also prohibit the production, possession, distribution or sale of pornographic material that show a minor under 18 in a sexual way. Child pornography laws now are being used by states and the federal government to punish using computers and the Internet to obtain, share and distribute any sexual-related material involving minors.

Note that images of child pornography are not protected by the First Amendment. The federal legal definition of child pornography, online or in print form, does not mean that there has to be an image of the child engaging in some form of sex. A picture of a naked child can be viewed as pornography if it is sexually suggestive.

Luring minors on the Internet through any enticement to commit sexual abuse is defined as a second degree felony in most states. The minor has to be below the legal age for that state; in most cases, this is 18. The prosecution has to prove that the perpetrator was soliciting a person who was under 18 years of age. Some type of attempt needs to have been made to entice the person. The intent to commit a crime with a minor also must be proven, as well as using the Internet to commit the crime.

It is important to understand that societal pressure in the US in recent years has caused the federal government to put substantial resources into investigating and prosecuting sexual offenses that occur online. Thus, the number of federal prosecutions and convictions for Internet sex crimes has gone up. Many of these offenses may not even involve a specific victim, but the consequences of being convicted as a federal Internet sex offender are devastating. Not only will you be sent to prison, fined and forced to register as a sex offender. You also will lose any property that was associated with the crime.

Internet sex crimes can occur in a multitude of ways. They can range from viewing and distributing images online who are engaged in sexual activity, to using the Internet to meet and/or arrange to meet others for some type of illegal sexual activity.

Huge amounts of money from the US government are allowing investigations by potential criminal offenses to be done by local law enforcement. The investigations are sophisticated and aggressive.

Some cities have an entire Internet Crimes Against Children unit that can investigate not just crimes in that city and state, but also as part of the ICAC Task Force. The task force is funded with federal tax dollars, and allows various law enforcement agencies to work with one another to investigate Internet sex crimes cases across state lines.

Any person accused of an Internet sex crime against a minor must seek immediate representation by an experienced federal defense attorney.

Internet Sex Crime Punishment

A first time offender who is caught engaging in a sex crime online, or handling or producing child pornography, can get up to 15-30  years in prison. Note that sex crime offenders may be prosecuted under both federal and state laws.

It has been reported that the length of federal Internet sex crime and child pornography sentences has gone up 500% in the last 15 years.

As with the majority of sex crimes, sex offender registration is required in most US states. All sex offenders have to register based upon stipulations in the state in which the crimes was committed, and various types of identifying information has to be provided for the registration. Depending upon the crime and state, registration can be for many years or for life. Also, sex offenders are required to register where they live when they go to a new state.

Megan’s Law

Each state has variations of Megan’s Law, but the guidelines may be different based upon various factors. The guidelines administer the extent to which sex offender personal information can be viewed by the public. Some states mandate that there be registration via a database that can be accessed by the public. Others have an Internet registration system that is only accessible to limited parties. Notifications of new sex offenders in a community are frequently made available to the community to which he or she is moving.

Internet Sex Crime Statute of Limitations

The federal statute 18 USC 3282 notes that no one may be prosecuted and jailed for a non capital offense, if the indictment occurs more than five years after the commission of the alleged crime. This includes child pornography and Internet sex crimes.

Internet Sex Crime Cases

While Internet sex crime and child pornography are terrible things and should be harshly punished, some of the stricter laws have led to some unusual cases. In the cases below, it is debatable if the defendant should be charged with a sex crime:

  • A 19 year-old high school student sent images of his naked, underage girlfriend by cell phone. He was charged with child pornography and production.
  • A high school senior who was 18 had consensual sex with his 14 year old girlfriend. He was charged with rape.
  • A man who was 22 years-old made a consensual home video of sex with his girlfriend who was 17 years-old. He put the video on his computer. He was charged with an Internet sex crime of child pornography production.

Internet Sex Crime Cases

Sex Crime Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming