We have previously written that it is common for law enforcement officers to conduct sting operations online in an attempt to catch potential computer sex crimes in the planning stages. It is not unusual for officers to pose as minors when engaging suspects online.

The suspects are then usually arrested after arranging a meeting with the “minor.” But one recent case filed in Waukesha County raises two important questions: How clear does alleged criminal intent need to be? And at what point does a law-enforcement sting operation go too far and become entrapment?

In this case, a police officer responded to a Craigslist ad in which a 46-year-old man was seeking a younger woman who wanted “experience.” The officer posed as a 15-year-old girl and began chatting with the man.

Eventually, their conversations resulted in an arranged meeting at a restaurant and the man’s arrest. He was charged with using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime.

But based on details provided in a local news article, the defendant made several attempts to politely tell the “girl” that she was too young. At one point, he reportedly specified that he could not meet a girl unless she was at least 18. At several other points, he expressed his suspicions that he was actually chatting with a police officer.

When the rendezvous finally was arranged, the defendant reportedly said that they would just be meeting for pizza and conversation. Nonetheless, officers arrested him at a Waukesha restaurant when he arrived for his meet-up with the “girl.”

There may be additional, undisclosed details that helped law enforcement determine that the defendant intended to commit a child sex crime. But based on information in news reports, the man’s actions do not seem to display clear criminal intent.

At the very least, this case reminds us that any Wisconsin resident facing sex-crime charges should seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. With such serious consequences on the line, defendants need to make sure that their rights are protected and that they have a chance to tell their side of the story.

Source: Wauwatosa Patch, “Tosa Man Snared in Online Child-Sex Sting, Police Say,” Joe Petrie, Nov. 7, 2012

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