The Internet stings Indiana police consider key to protecting minors from sexual predators may lose some of their power after two court rulings reported by the Indianapolis Star. The attraction for law enforcement — the lack of an actual victim — became the basis for the reversal of two charges against one defendant last week. The court ruled 2-1 that attempted sexual misconduct with a minor requires that the victim be a minor; an undercover officer doesn’t count. One defendant was arrested after he showed up at an apartment with rope and condoms in his pockets after explicit online chats with an investigator posing as 15-year-old “Samantha.”
Now prosecutors must rely on charges of child solicitation, which applies as long as the defendant merely believes the intended victim is at least 14 and younger than 16. That carries a potential sentence of two to eight years in prison, far short of the maximum 20-year penalty for attempted sexual misconduct. Prosecutors argue that online stings protect teenagers by snaring likely perpetrators, though judges often give reduced sentences or even probation because there are no actual victims.