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Craig’s List Sting Operations for Solicitation of Minors for Sex Cases on the Rise

As a full time Maryland Criminal Lawyer and former Baltimore County Prosecutor practicing exclusively in the criminal arena for almost 20 years, I have handled more Sex Offense Cases (on both sides of the aisle) than I can recall. Recently we have seen an uptick in the number of Craig’s List initiated Solicitation of Minors for Sex cases being charged, particularly in Baltimore County. Most of us are familiar with this type of sting operation from the Chris Hanson “To Catch a Predator Series” on MSNBC. These are extremely serious cases that are prosecuted aggressively by both the State and Federal authorities. It is imperative that a person charged in one of these stings immediately retain the most experienced, aggressive and influential attorneys they can find.

My law partner former Federal Prosecutor Andrew C. White who directed the Child Sex Offense of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for over 7 years, and I have teamed up to successfully resolve dozens of these cases over the past decade or so when we first starting seeing these sting operations. It is imperative to have someone very experienced and influential in the federal system as there is dual federal and state jurisdiction to prosecute these cases. We were hired by someone caught up in one of these investigations just last week. I won’t go into the specifics of any of the cases for obvious privacy reasons, but here is an outline of a typical case such as this.

Typically police conduct these investigations by entering chat rooms or more recently by posting an ad on Craig’s List. The language in the ad will say something like “I have time” or “Let’s hang out” followed by 18. An unsuspecting person will then respond to the ad and will be contacted back by an undercover detective. Eventually pictures will be exchanged and then the conversation will turn to sex. At some point the detective will message that “she” is 13 or 15 years old and ask something like “are you cool with that”.

Invariably my clients tell me that they did not believe the person was really the age claimed because of the sophisticated language used in prior messages, the apparent age of the woman in the photo the detective sends and other factors. The “girl” then typically agrees to perform oral sex or some other sex act and in some cases requests a phone card or some other form of payment. The meet is almost always at a particular McDonald’s Restaurant. My clients again almost invariably tell me that they go there expecting to meet an adult and were fully prepared to leave without even making contact if the “girl” turned out to be a minor. They are typically arrested within minutes of arriving on the parking lot. Most, never even go inside the restaurant.

As noted, the detective who handles all of this cases rarely identifies himself as an underage child until after being contacted and more often than not until after the discussion of sex has begun. For this and many other reasons these investigations are troubling to many of us who practice criminal law in Baltimore County.

More often than not the investigations begin in an adult chat room or on Craig’s List where a person has to certify that they are at least 18 years old before posting an advertisement. The detective is also almost always the one who first suggests sex which smacks of entrapment even though it doesn’t meet the extremely difficult to prove legal definition of entrapment in most circumstances. I also find it sad that Chris Hansen is interested enough to find out the target’s real intentions to hire a young looking model to entice the target into the house to determine which of these guys is truly prepared to have sex with a child. The Baltimore County Police don’t bother with such trivial matters as finding out who the real predators are. Why should they? After all they don’t really care if the person would actually go through with it. They care about making arrests and building stats. Unfortunately, a lot of decent people who have never or would never touch a child sexually have their lives ruined in the process.

We also find these cases troubling because there is very often a threat of federal indictment, and along with it the prospect of facing draconian mandatory federal sentences available to federal prosecutors, if the defendant refuses to plead guilty in State Court. Most of my professional colleagues and I find this tactic to be highly coercive and likely to lead to the guilty pleas of innocent defendants who are denied their ability to defend themselves in State Court.

As I noted at the beginning of this blog, these are extremely serious cases that are prosecuted aggressively by both the State and Federal authorities. It is imperative that a person charged in one of these stings immediately retain the most experienced, aggressive and influential attorney they can find. Please call for a free consultation.