Communicating with a Minor for Immoral Purposes
Social media sites can be great places to meet interesting, new people. Unfortunately, they can also be minefields that can result in charges of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes for those who are not careful.
The State of Washington views every sort of sexual relation with a minor very dimly. And the legislature has communicated this intention very clearly through the strict laws on sex offenses involving minors.
You can be charged with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes even if the teenager you have chatted with never read the messages. You may still be charged even if the person you have chatted with was actually a middle-aged detective posing as a teenager.
If you have been arrested or charged with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, you're likely already running out of time. Law enforcement officers investigate these offenses thoroughly and even carry out “sting” operations to catch unwary persons. The state also prosecutes the offense vigorously and will often look for the maximum punishment.
At The Curtis Firm, LLC, our Washington sex offenses attorneys have extensive experience defending clients accused of these crimes. The consequences of conviction for this offense can be devastating. This is why we do everything within our power to ensure the charges are either dropped, dismissed, reduced or defeated on trial.
If you are facing these charges, call The Curtis Firm, LLC today to speak with a qualified lawyer.
Washington statute penalizing communication with a minor for immoral purposes
The Revised Code of Washington RCW 9.68a.090 governs the offense of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. The statute criminalizes communication (both verbal and electronic) between a minor and an adult that is sexual in nature.
The offense is defined as communicating with an actual minor or someone believed to be a minor for immoral purposes. This means that it does not matter whether the person communicated with was a minor or not.
You may wonder what the phrase “immoral purposes” means. Washington courts have interpreted the phrase to mean “the predatory purpose of promoting the exposure of children to and involvement in sexual misconduct”.
Although “sexual misconduct” is not defined under the law, it could apply to almost any sex act with a minor. It could even apply to sex acts that would not ordinarily be against the law.
For instance, the legal age of consent in Washington is 16 years of age. However, under this law, a person could be prosecuted for sexual communication with their 17 or 18-year old partner.
The statute also contemplated a very broad definition of “communication”. It could include both conduct and speech. Courts have said it does not even matter if the speech was not directly communicated to the minor or understood by them.
For instance, in one case, a man was convicted for leaving notes on his neighbor's lawn for the attention of a teenager living there. Although the teenager never read the notes, her father did.
Electronic communication enhancements
When the offense includes face to face or written communication, it is charged as a gross misdemeanor. However, the statute was amended in 2013 to include electronic communication enhancements.
Under the new statute, communication with a minor for immoral purposes would be charged as a felony if it involves electronic communication. Electronic communication includes communication via optical cable, radio, email, internet and text messaging. Other circumstances in which the offense would be charged as a felony include:
- Offending by someone previously convicted of a felony sex offense under RCW 9.68A, 9A.44 or 9A.64; or
- Offending by someone previously convicted of any other felony sexual offense in Washington or another state
Internet “sting” operations
Increasingly, many charges of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes stem from communication over the internet. This has encouraged police officers to go online and pretend to be a young person interested in sex.
Often, a large number of investigations and prosecutions on sites such as Craigslist and Back Page begin in this manner. Law enforcement officers are usually required to show that the fictitious teenager said he or she was underage at the time of the communication.
Since you didn't actually communicate with a minor if it was a detective pretending to be a young person, can you be convicted?
In most cases, yes. Under Washington laws, it is not a defense that a crime could not be physically completed if steps have already been taken to accomplish it. As such, it does not matter that you did not actually communicate with a minor. What matters is that you believed you were.
Penalties for conviction
The penalties for communication with a minor for immoral purposes depend on how the crime was committed.
For communication over a telephone or face to face, the offense is charged as gross misdemeanor. This will attract a punishment of up to 1 year in jail and a fine up to $5,000.
If the communication was electronic or if you have a prior sexual offense conviction, the offense is a Class C felony. This may be punished with up to 5 years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.
In either case, offenders will be required to register as a sex offender. This will result in restrictions as to movement, possible employment and even residence.
Defenses against the charge
Despite the harsh nature of the charge, we can assert a number of defenses on your behalf at The Curtis Firm, LLC.
We can review the circumstances of your case thoroughly to determine if the person you were chatting with claimed to be an adult. When a person is communicating online with someone that claims to be an adult, they cannot be charged with the offense.
This is because the government must usually prove that you intended the communication to be received by a minor. If the person claimed to be an adult, this cannot be proven. (State v. Aljutily, 149 Wn.App. 286 2009)
For in person communications, it can truly be difficult to tell the age of the person you were communicating with. However, in these circumstances, the defense that the person claimed they were an adult cannot be easily maintained.
The law requires that in such a situation, you must show that you required documentary evidence of the person's age. It is not enough that the person looked mature or that they claimed to be an adult.
If your case allows arguments that show you made a good faith attempt to ascertain the true age of the minor, we can argue this forcefully on your behalf.
The Curtis Firm, LLC can help
At The Curtis Firm, LLC, we have been representing people charged with sexual offenses for many years with proven results. We have a deep understanding of the issues involved in these cases and can help you navigate this difficult area of law.
If you have been charged with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, call The Curtis Firm, LLC today for your best chance at a positive outcome. You can call us at 253-327-1063 to schedule a free case evaluation.
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