Know "The Chatter": Being Charged for Online Lewd Acts with a Child

Posted by Ernesto Gapasin | Jan 12, 2022 | 0 Comments

A frequently seen case in military courts involve allegations that an accused attempted to commit lewd acts on a child who has not reached the age of 16 years.  We typically see the factual scenario played out where there is online chatter between the accused and a law enforcement agent who is pretending to be a minor child.  What you typically see is the agent pretending to be a child who, for example, may be home alone or looking for new friends to hang out with after their parents just arrived at the installation.  The agents generally work with "ICAC," which stands for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program.  This federally funded agency works hand-in-hand with states to lure unsuspecting individuals into engaging with fake, pretend minors who are played by "chatters".  These chatters are adult agents trained to coax the person they are communicating with to engage in indecent language with the fake minor, and ultimately attempt to meet with the minor in a private place.  These meetings are almost always for purposes of having sexual relations, and usually the online chatter which is compiled clearly reflects the intent for the adult to have sex with the pretend minor.  Even if the subject is not coaxed into meeting the minor, they can still be charged under Article 80 of the UCMJ for the attempt to commit lewd acts.  They can also be charged with the attempt to "knowingly induce, persuade, and entice an individual" which the accused believed to be a child.

Without an experienced attorney who specializes in UCMJ defense, these cases can go south very quickly.  One of the first steps in properly defending a client charged with such specifications is to thoroughly know the chatter, to really know and understand the dialogue between the subject and the agent.  I've had to pour over weeks of "chatter" in order to note every single nuance and distinction in order to illustrate how my client never had the intent to engage in any sexual acts with the pretend-minor.  The dialogue itself will help in determining what the subject's actual intent was.  Simply because someone is engaged in chatter with a purported minor does not mean that that person is trying to engage in sex with the pretend minor, or trying to engage in indecent acts.  Knowing and pulling apart the dialogue itself will initially help determine the direction the defense should take in determining whether or not charges can lead to a conviction for Attempt under Article 80, UCMJ.  A second important step is in revealing the lack of experience that the fake chatter had prior to engaging your client online.  Many of the chatters are very inexperienced, only hoping to gain some law enforcement experience by partnering up with ICAC, as though they were part of some big Federal raid.  Their inexperience can be exposed under cross-examination by an aggressive court-martial lawyer.  This is important because inexperienced chatters frequently move too quickly and recklessly in violation of strict guidelines in trying to entrap their unsuspecting subjects.

If you are being investigated for similar allegations, call or email Gapasin Law Group, LLC for a confidential, no-cost phone consultation.

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Ernesto Gapasin



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