Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers for Federal Coercion and Enticement Charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

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Federal Coercion and Enticement charges are some of the most serious charges that a person could face in the United States. In general, federal law makes it a crime to engage in commerce, travel across state lines, or use the internet or phones to engage in illegal sex acts with minors or solicit minors for sex. It also makes it illegal to promote prostitution using the internet or by crossing state lines.

The most common type of enticement charge seen in federal court involves an adult defendant who has used internet messaging apps or websites in an attempt to communicate with either a real minor for the purposes of having sex or obtaining naked photos or an adult defendant who has solicited what appeared to be a minor online but actually turned out to be a police officer or other law enforcement agent. In this type of situation, an unlucky defendant could be charged under 18 USC 2422 with coercion and enticement in federal court, where the penalties are much higher than they would typically be for a violation of state law. In state court, this type of conduct could result in a prosecution for charges such as Unlawful Contact with a Minor. Although this type of conduct traditionally did not result in lengthy jail sentences, that has changed, particularly for defendants who are facing charges in federal court.

Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies often work together to investigate these potential crimes, and the decisions as to whether a defendant will be prosecuted in state or federal court can be very arbitrary and random. Fortunately, our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers have extensive experience in defending against these types of charges. We offer a free 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.

Can I get bail if I am charged with enticement in federal court?

Most federal sex crimes provide a presumption of pre-trial detention, meaning that the defendant ordinarily should not be released on bail or house arrest prior to trial. However, in some cases, it is possible to obtain pre-trial house arrest with electronic monitoring prior to trial. This requires overcoming the presumption of detention by filing a motion for pre-trial release. The defense must then convince the judge that the defendant is not a flight risk and that releasing the defendant prior to trial will not pose a risk to the community. In cases where the defendant has strong ties to the community, a history of gainful employment, support from family and friends, and no prior criminal record, it may be possible to obtain pre-trial house arrest.

In federal court, a Magistrate Judge will typically make the initial decision on bail at the defendant’s Initial Appearance. Because the Initial Appearance happens shortly after arrest, the defendant may not have had time to retain a defense attorney and prepare a compelling bail argument for that hearing. Therefore, it is possible to file a motion to reconsider if the Magistrate Judge has denied bail. If the Magistrate Judge still will not release the defendant, then the Magistrate’s decision can be appealed to the United States District Judge and potentially the Court of Appeals for that federal circuit. Many defendants are held prior to trial, but each case is different, and in some cases, it may be possible to obtain house arrest. The federal courts typically do not require defendants to pay cash bail. A defendant could be required to post collateral such as real estate which would be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear for court, but the defendant typically does not have to pay money in exchange for pre-trial release.

Penalties and Sentencing for a Federal Enticement Conviction

The federal enticement statute provides for two types of offense. Section (a) provides:

Whoever knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, to engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

This means that a defendant who has been convicted under section (a) could receive up to twenty years in federal prison and/or a substantial fine. Because section (a) typically deals with adults and not necessarily with sexual acts with minors, section (a) does not require a judge to impose a mandatory minimum sentence upon conviction. However, the federal sentencing guidelines still call for many years in federal prison for most convictions under this section, and judges are required to give great weight to the sentencing guidelines when deciding on a sentence.

Section (b) of the statute, which deals with enticement of a minor, carries even more severe penalties. Under section (b),

Whoever, using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.

This means that a conviction under section (b) can be punished with a life sentence. It also means that a conviction under (b) requires the judge to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in federal prison. Both statutes can also result in extended periods of supervised release and Megan’s Law registration upon the completion of the prison sentence. For this reason, in situations where the Government has a strong case, it may make sense to focus on sentencing in order to avoid as much prison time as possible.

Potential Defenses to Enticement Charges

Fortunately, there are potential defenses to criminal charges. The potential defenses in your case will vary depending on all of the circumstances and the evidence, but defenses to internet sex crimes could include:

Motions to Suppress

Enticement prosecutions often involve interrogations of the defendant and searches of the defendant’s person, computers, phones, and other electronic devices. If the police do not follow the requirements of the constitution by obtaining search warrants properly supported by probable cause or if they interrogate a defendant who has been taken into custody without providing Miranda warnings, it may be possible to challenge the search or interrogation in court and have the evidence suppressed. If the evidence can be suppressed, then it cannot be used against you in court, and the case could be dismissed if the Government no longer has sufficient evidence of a crime.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

Many prosecutions brought under 18 USC 2422 involve a suspect’s activities on the internet. In cases where the defendant has not actually attempted to meet up with the minor or undercover law enforcement officer, the Government may not be able to prove that the defendant actually intended to engage in illegal sexual activity and took the necessary substantial step towards an attempt to commit the crime. Further, depending on what type of digital evidence the Government has obtained, it may be possible to challenge their ability to prove who actually engaged in the potentially illegal conduct. If the only evidence consists of online conversations and evidence obtained from a computer, it may be possible to show that other people had access to the computer, internet router, or electronic device and that it may not be the defendant who actually engaged in the online conversations.

Fantasy/Roleplaying/Lack of Real Intent to Solicit a Minor

It is not uncommon for consenting adults to act out fantasies or engage in roleplaying by pretending to be minors despite actually being of age. In this type of situation, it may be a defense if the defendant genuinely believed that the person on the other end of the line was of age but pretending to be a minor. The statute requires that the defendant actually attempt to commit or commit an illegal sex act. This makes it illegal to try to solicit a minor even if the minor turns out to be an adult law enforcement officer, but it is not necessarily illegal to engage in roleplaying of some kind.

Negotiations and Sentencing Arguments

Because a conviction under section (b) requires a ten year mandatory minimum sentence and can result in life in federal prison or a lifetime of supervised release, there are cases in which the Government has very strong evidence and the focus should be on obtaining the best possible sentence. In cases where our clients had limited prior criminal records, had not engaged in criminal sexual behavior before, and had other mitigating circumstances, we have been able to negotiate sentences for less than the ten year mandatory minimum.

Is it entrapment for the police to pretend to be a minor online?

No, entrapment typically will not be a defense in the case where a defendant attempts to solicit a minor for sex and the minor turns out to be a police officer. Entrapment is a complicated defense that generally involves law enforcement officers coercing a defendant into doing something that the person would not have otherwise done. Where the defendant has attempted to solicit a minor for sex online, it will be difficult in most cases to show that the police improperly caused the defendant to engage in this behavior. Therefore, while entrapment could be a defense in some cases, it is rarely a defense to these types of charges.

What should I do if the police want to talk to me about solicitation of a minor?

If the police are looking for you or want to talk to you and you believe that you could be a suspect in a crime, you should always speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before you talk to the officer. Only a criminal defense attorney can evaluate your situation and help you avoid making it worse by saying something incriminating. The consequences of a criminal arrest and conviction are life-changing, and this is particularly true in federal court. There is very little room for error when dealing with a potential criminal prosecution, and making an incriminating statement may make it very challenging to win a case. Many people think that they will be able to talk themselves out of trouble or that the police officer will understand, sympathize, and let them go. That is almost never the case. You should always speak with a defense attorney first.

Facing Federal Criminal Charges? we can help.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

Criminal Defense Attorneys Demetra Mehta and Zak Goldstein

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in state and federal courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have obtained full acquittals, dismissals, and other successful results in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, Homicide, and all types of internet sex crimes. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.