Computer traveling statues in Florida
(Florida’s “To Catch a Predator” Statutes)
Disclaimer: This page is not intended as legal advice. It is provided to give you basic information to use as a starting point in discussions with your attorney.
Florida statute 847.0135(4) is titled “TRAVELING TO MEET A MINOR”. It is the statute that officers use to set up stings to catch individuals that they believe want to have sex with young children. These types of stings were made popular by the show “To Catch a Predator.” After the shows ratings went up, law enforcement became more and more aggressive in participating in these types of stings. Stings happen all day everyday in some part of the U.S. Because of the popularity and national support, traveling charges are becoming more and more frequent and the penalties are becoming more and more severe.
Why were traveling statutes enacted?
The idea in enacting this statute was that children needed to be protected. At one time it was easier for parents to monitor who their children spoke with and when. But with the rise of computer chats and phone chats, that task is more difficult to monitor. It is much easier for a minor to meet an adult online than it is for them to walk into a club unnoticed. It is also much easier for an adult to arrange a meeting with a minor over the computer or via text message than it is to do so in person or over a landline where an adult may witness the conversation. Adults can contact a minor in any state, not just a local neighborhood. Minors can look for willing adults in different cities or towns to try to make sure their parents don’t find out.
So to help keep these types of hook-ups from occurring, there are traveling statutes that make it illegal for adults to try to meet children in this manner and then to follow up by actually going to meet them.
What does the traveling statute say?
Florida Statue 847.0135(4) reads:
“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 that mean?
This means if you are convicted of using a computer to go to a location agreed upon by you and a minor for a sexual purpose, including but not limited to:
- Photographing the minor in a sexual way or for sexual means
- Videotaping the minor performing any type of sexual or deviant act
- Having the minor perform a “simulated” sexual act or
- Having the intent to have any type of sexual contact in any way with the minor
you face 15 years in prison.
If you change your location after contactng a person by computer who you believe to be a parent or guardian of a child in an attempt to arrange to use their minor child or ward for a sexual purpose such as:
- For photographing the minor in a sexual way or for sexual means
- For making a video of the minor performing any type of sexual or deviant act
- For the purpose of having the minor perform a “simulated” sexual act or
- For the purpose of arranging to have any type of sexual contact in any way with the minor
you face 15 years in prison.
How far do you have to go for the State to consider it “traveling”?
It does not matter if you “travel” next door, across town, to the next county, or to the next state. If you made arrangements by computer to travel or change your location to meet with a child, or the parent or guardian of a child, for the purpose of watching, photographing, arranging for or performing any type of sexual act you will be prosecuted under this statute.
What if I live out of State?
If you live out of the State of Florida, and you travel to Florida for the purposes of meeting the minor or guardian of the minor in person after arranging to do so over the computer for any kind of sexual purpose, you will be arrested.
If you get back to your home state before the officers are able to arrest you, law enforcement or the State Attorney’s office will request a Governor’s warrant to allow for extradition from your home state to the State of Florida for prosecution.
What if I contact a child out of State?
If you live in Florida and you contact a child, or someone you believe to be a child, that lives out of state using a computer, and as part of that contact you ask for some type of sexual photo, sexual pose, sexual behavior, etc, you can be prosecuted by the minor’s home state.
If you contact a child or a parent or guardian and attempt to have the child travel to Florida, or sent to Florida by the parent or guardian for any type of sexual purpose, you can be prosecuted under Florida’s traveler’s statute and face 15 years in prison.
Can I be charged in both Florida and another State for the same offense if I contact a child in another state or if I live in another state and contact a child in Florida?
Florida statue 847.0135(8) specifically allows for it. The statute reads:
“Prosecution of any person for an offense under this section shall not prohibit prosecution of that person in this state or another jurisdiction for a violation of any law of this state, including a law providing for greater penalties than prescribed in this section or any other crime punishing the sexual performance or the sexual exploitation of children.”
There are also federal laws that may apply. Whether or not this might violate the double jeopardy protections of the Constitution would be an argument to be raised by your attorney.
What if I only went to show the child how dangerous it can be to meet a person over the internet and invite them to their home?
Almost everyone who gets arrested under this statute tells the arresting officer that they only went to the child’s home for the purpose of telling them how dangerous meeting a stranger can be. Almost everyone who is arrested states that they had no intention of actually following through with the planned activity whether it be taking a photo, having sexual relations, or filming the child.
Law enforcement is not going to believe you. Law enforcement agents have all of your chat conversations or skype video or other computer transmissions that they believe tells them otherwise. They would not be there to arrest you if they thought you were only traveling to meet the minor to teach them a lesson. So law enforcement is going to arrest you and the State will charge you with a crime.
But you can discuss with your attorney whether you can present that defense to a jury.
What if the child or parent I was contacting was an undercover officer? Do I have a defense since they weren’t really a child?
No. Not at all. This is how most people get arrested for this crime. They contact a person they believe to be a minor and it turns out to be an undercover law enforcement agent. It is not illegal for the officer to pose as an undercover child in the chatroom in the hopes that someone will fall for it and solicit them for sex. It is also not a defense.
Just remember, these stings happen all of the time. If you think it is a minor in a chatroom, you are probably wrong. It is probably a cop.
What if the child lies about their age? Or if the parent lies about the age of their child?
Any person who misrepresents his or her age, commits a felony of the second degree.
…just because they lie and are charged, it does not necessarily mean that the State will not charge you as well. If a minor or the minor’s guardian lies to you about their age, make sure to discuss this fact with your attorney.
What happens to me if I am arrested under the traveling statute?
You will be taken to jail, booked and fingerprinted. Your mugshot will be taken. More than likely you will remain in jail on a high bond until first appearance where the judge will establish conditions for your release. These conditions will probably include no unsupervised contact with minor children, and your computer will be confiscated. You may also have a condition that you not use a computer while your case is pending. These conditions will be in addition to your posting a monetary bond.
Your case will then proceed in the usual way with an arraignment, motions, pre-trial matters and possibly a trial. Your attorney will discuss this process with you.
Will my picture be posted in the paper?
In most cases, when a person is arrested under this statute, the picture is either posted in the paper or online with a description of the allegation. Sometimes quotes from the chat are published with the photo. Your photo will most likely be uploaded to the internet where people can find you and a description of your charge by putting your name and town into Google.
What do I do if I think the person I am speaking with is a minor?
End the conversation!!! Immediately!! Don’t take a chance that something you say may be used against you later as an indication that you were trying to be inappropriate. Just end the conversation and move on.
What if I am the owner of the computer service that is used for meeting minors?
Florida statute 847.0135(6) holds the owner or operator of computer online services, Internet services, or local bulletin board services accountable if they know the service is being used to allow for sexual exploitation of children. If you are the owner of one of these services and you know your service is being used by adults to try to meet minors for sexual purposes, you can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to one year in jail and a $2000 fine.
What do I do if I am arrested under the traveling statute?
DO NOT ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS AND ASK FOR A LAWYER IMMEDIATELY!!! Do not make any statements to the officer. Anything you say is an admission and can be used against you. Remain silent and call an experienced attorney right away to protect your rights!!
Due to the high popularity of “To Catch a Predator” and similar shows, the traveling statute is enforced by law enforcement agencies on a regular basis. Enforcement of this statute has strong popular support and arrests make good press for law enforcement agencies. Don’t get caught in the net. If you think the person you are chatting with is a minor, or that they are attempting to get you to take inappropriate actions with a minor, end the chat immediately. If you feel you have done something that may be questionable contact an attorney to discuss your options. If you are arrested under this statute call an attorney who has experience in dealing with these particular charges in your local area. Do not try to figure it out yourself. Protect your rights and contact a knowledgeable and trustworthy attorney at once!
Call Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins at 1-888-424-7777. We have experience with these types of cases and the resources to fully mount a defense. Don’t leave your defense to an unskilled or overworked attorney. Call us now! Let us defend you today!