December 17, 2014

The Rest of the Story: What Most People Don’t Know about Pornography Investigations

Pornography cases are often seen in the media as “open and shut” propositions: if a person stands accused of a cybercrime, then he or she should be punished. Those accused of cybercrimes involving children are often maligned more than those accused of other crimes, because many people find such acts highly disturbing. However, the information made public in such cases may not be fully accurate or complete.

Even if a suspect did engage in wrongdoing, the charges may suggest a more serious crime than what actually occurred. Our Miami cybercrime law team has seen this happen frequently and would like to educate our readers about the complexities and nuances of these cases. To that end, let’s examine two recent news items.

North New Jersey Man Accused

According to the North Jersey News website, thirty-year-old Thomas Bachalis of Newark was arrested on December 4, 2014, and charged with distributing child pornography using his computer. Officers of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Office searched Bachalis’ home in September 2013 and found “digital evidence depicting child sexual abuse, including material [involving] prepubescent minors.” Earlier searches conducted in August 2013 resulted in an officer downloading thirty-two pornographic images from an IP address connected to Bachalis’ residence. If convicted, Bachalis could face a minimum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Northwest Georgia Man Accused

Pornography accusations also abound in northwest Georgia. Stephen Michael Hipple was recently sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for “aggravated sodomy,” possessing and distributing child pornography, and using a child younger than twelve to take pornographic photographs. Hipple sent and received at least one pornographic picture with his cell phone circa July 1, 2014.

What the Media Doesn’t Say

Unfortunately, news stories like these are often summarized as quickly as possible by the media, sometimes missing or omitting important details that could partially or completely exonerate the accused. Cybercrime investigations are often complicated for one or more of the following reasons:

• Lack of evidence. One or two pictures are generally not enough to convict someone of severe pornography charges, but a few pictures are often all that are cited on a complaint.

• Misinterpretation of evidence. This can occur when the suspect did in fact download pornography, but not as much as the charges suggest. It can also occur if the police enter more than one type of evidence – for example, if a search warrant specified only data from a computer but officers entered data from a phone into the case.

• Definition disagreements. What exactly constitutes child pornography and violations of Florida and federal cybercrime law? Arguments over these definitions can have profound ramifications for defendants.

Do you need help responding to federal cybercrime or solicitation charges? Call an experienced Miami cybercrimes attorney with Seltzer Law, P.A. today to schedule a free consultation. Call anytime at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

December 8, 2014

Federal Cybercrime Lawyer Reports on Two Divergent (But Equally Disturbing) Cases

Whether you stand accused of charges of soliciting a minor or violating federal cybercrimes law, you probably feel nervous about your future, scared about the legal implications and confused about how to protect your rights and reputation. You are not alone.

Every week, many men and women in the United States and beyond find themselves facing severe legal penalties for violating these laws. Today, we’re going to talk about two big stories along those lines in the news. The first concerns 58-year-old Phuc Kieu, a Vietnamese immigrant in Florida who allegedly tried to rob, assault and rape a 20-year-old male after Kieu viewed pornography in his vehicle. According to reports from the New York Daily News, Kieu had been hanging out in his Honda Civic, watching homosexual pornography on a portable DVD player, when he grabbed a 21-year-old male off the street, stole his backpack (which contained $220 in cash), and tried to sexually assault him. The young man eventually escaped and shouted “rapist!” and led police to arrest Kieu.

Meanwhile, in another disturbing case here in Florida, a man accused of “Nationwide Sextortion” faces a 105 year prison sentence. According to news reports, 31-year-old Lucas Chansler had been found with 80,000+ pornographic images on his computer. He allegedly targeted 350+ girls between 2007 and 2010. The St. John’s County man later pled guilty to nine counts of producing pornography -- each count came with a penalty of a $250,000 fine and 15 to 30 years in prison.

Chansler admitted to contacting girls in 26 states through various types of social media, including Facebook. He then pretended to be a younger male and enticed the women to share pornographic videos of themselves. He frequently sent images of a younger male masturbating to convince the girls that he was also young. Once in possession of these videos, he then extorted the girls (who typically ranged from 13 to 18 years old) and said that he would release the videos unless they provided more sexual images or videos for him. All told, authorities said Chansler took advantage of 103 victims who were under the age of legal consent.

The allegations against Chansler obviously are disturbing, but most people arrested and charged with sex crimes do not go to the length of extorting their victims. If you or someone you love faces similar or serious charges, please contact a Florida cybercrime defense lawyer with Seltzer Law, PA at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a confidential and free consultation.

December 3, 2014

UK Bans a Laundry List of Sexual Acts from Online Movies – Implications for Miami Cybercrime Defense

As any respectable federal cybercrime attorney can tell you, the line between what’s legal and illegal with respect to viewing online materials can be blurrier than many people realize.

In fact, both leading ethicists and attorneys frequently (and often hotly) debate where to draw the line between what people should be permitted to watch (with appropriate warnings) and what should be banned from the airways (and/or from the Internet). They also argue over when watchers (and intermediaries) should be punished for participating in the pornography production/viewing process.

In light of that, let’s a look at a peculiar government action that has stirred a vocal public debate over free speech. The UK’s Department of Culture, Media & Sports, (DCMS) just introduced new and stringent restrictions on what types of sexual acts can be included in online videos. Under the aegis of banning materials as “harmful to minors,” the DCMS banned the inclusion of 10 different sexual acts, including strangulation, aggressive whipping, and other acts to make the rules for online pornography identical to the rules currently in place that the UK has for hard copy DVD movies.

DCMS said the legislation "provides the same level of protection to the online world that exists on the high street in relation to the sale of physical DVDs… In a converging media world, these provisions must be coherent, and the BBFC classification regime is a tried and tested system of what content is regarded as harmful for minors.”

However, the DCMS move is not without its critics.

For instance, per the Independent (a UK newspaper), erotic film producer, Erika Lust, said “with this legislation, the UK is in danger of flinging itself back to an age where porn is simply the boring, unrealistic, male fantasy of bimbos eagerly pleasing men as if it’s their duty, where women are submissive and lack ownership of their sexuality. Women in the industry will now fear the loss of their livelihoods as well as their sexual independence.”

The point of bringing up this kerfuffle in the UK is that both the law and social mores regarding what constitutes cybercriminal activity can be rather grey. If you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of that law, you may need the assistance of an experienced Miami cybercrime lawyer to protect your freedom and ensure your rights. Call the team here at Seltzer, PA at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) right now. We are available 24/7 for a free and confidential consultation.

November 24, 2014

A More Humane Approach to Handling the Problem of Florida Sex Crime Recidivism

As we discussed in our last blog post, commissioners in the State of Florida have asked the Florida legislature to pass a law that would require all Florida sex criminals, past and present, to wear GPS devices indefinitely, so that law enforcement agencies could track their whereabouts.

The ultimate purpose of this proposal is noble. Who doesn’t want to prevent recidivists from harming children and other vulnerable individuals? However, the proposed legal ideas would not only obviously threaten the civil rights of people, but it could also create major costs for them and for the legal system.

Perhaps it would be better and more productive to have a discussion about the core issue: how can we prevent recidivism? The idea that handing out more penalties -- and more intense penalties -- will somehow prevent the problem of recidivism is probably pretty naive. After all, there are already tremendous disincentives for people to violate Florida cyber crime and sex crime laws, including incredible prison sentences.

As the inimitable Will Rogers once said, if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

The fact is that punishing people with ever more draconian penalties is probably unlikely to move the needle in terms of what we all really want – to reduce recidivism. It makes a lot more sense to deal with the source of the problem – to better understand what exactly drives people to commit sex crimes again and again. With better science, we can formulate better therapies and legal tools to keep our society safe.

For instance, unfortunately, right now, people who commit sex crimes are considered persona non-grata by almost all of society. Many people tend to think of such offenders as innately “bad.” But if we understood what drives people to engage in these kinds of behaviors -- and had more honest conversations about the psychology of these crimes – perhaps we could make better strides.

Call the team here at Seltzer Law, P.A. 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation about your potential Florida cyber crime defense options now.

November 19, 2014

Florida Legislature Urged to Vote on Bill That Would Require Lifetime GPS Monitoring For Florida Sex Crime Offenders

Florida county representatives have asked the Florida State Legislature to mandate that people convicted of sex offenses in Florida be forced to wear GPS monitors for life.

Even if you committed an offense years or decades ago – and you’ve been a model citizen ever since – the Miami-Dade Legislative Item File Number 142535 would still force you to wear a device. The motion was passed by a vote of 10 to 1, with two commissioners absent, and the official title says it all: “Resolution urging the Florida legislature to require sexual predators and sexual offenders to wear electronic monitoring devices for the remainder for the natural lives.”

The Board of County Commissioners worries about the high “recidivism rate” for people who’ve been convicted of sex crimes; they also cited the fact that a Florida Legislature-Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability report written in 2012 said that many sheriff’s offices struggled to find “sexual predators and sexual offenders… listed at transient residences.”

The members of the commission believe that better monitoring of these convicts could let police know instantly if someone violated the law and entered a park, school, nursery facility or other place where children congregate. They noted that similar types of laws have been passed in nearly dozen states, including California, Missouri, Maryland and Rhode Island.

The passion that the Board has for protecting the well-being of children is obviously understandable. We have strong needs to protect people who are young and vulnerable from those who would cause harm. On the other hand, this draconian proposal would create an incredible burden for people whose lives have already been thrown into chaos and whose movements are already under severe restriction.

Are such restrictions morally fair or even Constitutional?

What about the civil liberties of the men or women who would spend the rest of their lives monitored in this fashion? Rather than more punitive laws, why don’t we try to reduce recidivism by using more humane approaches, like providing better, more compassionate psychological care for people drawn to committing sex offences?

If you or someone you love is worried about your legal rights as a convicted (or accused) Florida cyber crime or sex offender, call Seltzer Law, P.A. at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (888-843-3333) today for a confidential consultation.

November 10, 2014

Can Authorities Really Prove That You Engaged in Florida Cybercrime Activity?

Perhaps police arrested you on charges of possessing or distributing pornography in Florida after conducting a thorough investigation into your computer use. Or maybe police recently busted someone you love for allegedly soliciting a minor for sexual relations.

In either case, you understand the dire legal consequences of a conviction.

However, a key element of the American judicial system is that, in criminal cases, prosecutors must prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendants in pornography cases can sow reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors by challenging evidence that the prosecution submits. In certain types of criminal cases, evidence presented is straight-forward and easy to understand. “This is the gun the suspect had.”

But when you’re dealing with evidence that’s less tangible -- such as electronic media, digital files, software, and computer code -- it can be a lot harder to establish what exactly happened, who did what, when, and how. For instance:

• Did you really illegally obtain an explicit digital photograph of an underage person?
• How can you be sure that authorities did not doctor images?
• What if you “accidentally” downloaded pornographic files to your computer without intending to… or without even knowing that pictures ended up on your hard drive?

Whether you’re computer savvy and you did commit a crime (or believe that you did)… or you’re the opposite of computer savvy and insist that you’re completely innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, you deserve intelligent counsel to help you navigate your next steps and make smart decisions. Call a qualified and experienced Florida cybercrime defense lawyer at Seltzer Law, PA, to speak with an attorney today about your defense options. We are available any time of day, 24/7, at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) to provide a free, completely confidential consultation about your rights.

November 5, 2014

Coast to Coast -- in North Carolina and Alaska -- Men Busted on Child Pornography Charges

As voters across the land recently weighed in on issues ranging from choosing Senators to raising the minimum wage to reviewing medical malpractice limits, few if any politicians (and voters) paid much heed to issues like federal cybercrime and solicitation.

These issues are just not on most people’s radars.

But if you have been arrested for such crimes -- or if you know someone who has been -- you obviously are deeply aware that such crimes can be punished with substantial jail time and forced inclusion in sex offender registries.

In separate cases, police arrested two men in Juno, Alaska and North Carolina for pornography crimes over Election Day week. On Tuesday, the Juno Police Department arrested Scott R. Parker, a 40-year-old, on 40 child pornography charges, including 39 counts of possession and one count of distribution. Authorities took him to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. All 40 charges are felonies.

Meanwhile, that same week, police obtained a search warrant and arrested an Asheboro, North Carolina man, Corey Scott Daniel. The Internet Crimes against Children Task Force allegedly found multiple computers at Daniel’s home, including a file that contained child pornography. They took Daniel to Randolph County Jail and held him under $50,000 bond. He faces a count of second degree sexual exploitation of a child.

The charges against these two men are obviously incredibly serious. They could face decades (or more) of jail time, depending on the state laws they violated and other factors.

If you or somebody you love stands accused of similar crimes, you may be confused and scared about what to do and almost paralyzed by indecision. Failing to act can have negative consequences for your defense. Evidence that could exonerate you, for instance, could be lost or destroyed. Witnesses who might be able to provide helpful testimony may forget what they saw or heard.

Contact an experienced Florida cybercrime defense attorney with Seltzer Law, PA, immediately to schedule a confidential, thorough and free consultation. Call us at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333), any time of day or night, for compassionate and strategic assistance.

October 27, 2014

Investigation of Florida Sex Crime Sting Operations Changes the Way Police Operate

Florida cybercrime and solicitation charges are incredibly serious; if you are convicted, you can face many years behind bars, the destruction of your personal reputation and business, and untold damage to your self-esteem and important relationships in your life.

That’s why when 10News (in Tampa) recently investigated local police sex sting operations, the entire state paid attention. This journalistic sleuthing may have done some good: the news reports appear to have changed how police now conduct sex sting operations.

We reported on some of the methodological problems of these stings in a recent blog post. For instance, investigators allegedly deleted relevant emails, in violation of Florida State Law -- a crime that could technically be prosecuted as a first degree misdemeanor. 10News just reported that “a sting conducted by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Clearwater Police Department last weekend netted just 11 arrests, down significantly from 30 to 40 arrests most central Florida stings were netting in recent years." The investigators believe “the drop is likely the result of increased attention on the officers' behavior, prompting them to stop boosting arrest totals by bending the rules.”

The investigators also noted “another noticeable change in the most recent Pinellas County operation was how few young adults were targeted. In a drastic shift from previous Florida "Predator"-inspired stings, none of the men arrested were under 28 years old.”

Sheriff Gualtieri, who had been targeted and criticized by the 10News team, seemed to be happy with the results: “The effort from detectives was the same, and we're getting [fewer arrests], so... it’s a good sign… I don't think we were doing anything wrong to begin with.”

Despite these salutary changes -- at least in the immediate wake of the investigation -- it’s highly likely that these sting operations causes multiple instances of injustice. If you or someone you care about got caught up in the dragnet and stands falsely accused of pornography or sexual solicitation of minor charges, the Seltzer Law, PA team can aggressively and effectively help you fight back. Call us immediately to schedule a consultation – 1-888-THE DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333)

October 22, 2014

Police Officers Involved in Florida Sex Sting Investigations Have Been Deleting Records

As someone who stands falsely accused of a Florida sex crime, like solicitation of a minor for sex or child pornography, you are outraged and terrified by the charges.

Or perhaps you are a friend or family member of someone who has been charged with sex crimes. This person claims to be innocent, but you're not sure what to believe or whom to believe.

A new report from 10News out in Tampa suggests that police officers involved in sex sting operations “routinely delete emails and other records that Florida law requires them to retain.” Per the 10News report, three separate law enforcement agencies in the Sunshine State admitted they have not saved emails, despite a Florida law that mandates that investigators retain all emails connected with an investigation so that such information “is available when and where it is needed, in an organized and efficient fashion, and in an appropriate environment.”

The 10News team reported on these controversial stings, which seek to arrest and charge men searching online for sexual encounters with minors. They call them “controversial” because they say officers have been artificially boosting their arrest totals. Civil rights activists, many law enforcement personnel, and others in legal community have criticized these stings for targeting men who were not criminals and who were very unlikely to commit criminal behavior.

When Gannett, the parent company of WTSP-TV, asked for information, “many agencies still wouldn't turn documents over because they claimed that the potential targets [who number in hundreds] ignored the advances and did the right thing… were still 'under investigation.'"

These agencies may have actually violated state law. The 10News report quoted Florida First Amendment Foundation’s Barbara Petersen saying “an intentional violation of the public records law – including the destruction of public record emails – is a first degree misdemeanor."

It's curious: In attempting to turn non-criminals into subjects of criminal investigation, these officers may have actually broken law… and become criminals themselves.

For help structuring an effective, smart defense to false charges that you have committed a Florida cybercrime, such as pornography or solicitation, call the team here at Seltzer Law, PA immediately for a free consultation at 1-888-THE DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

October 13, 2014

Federal Pornography: A Federal Crime and Apparently a Quite Common One

If you’ve been arrested on federal child pornography charges in Florida (or elsewhere), you obviously understand that you are in an incredibly serious situation. You might face punishments ranging from lengthy amounts of jail time to ostracism from friends and family. If the charges against you aren’t true or are exaggerated, you are also likely panicked about how you can prove your innocence and make sure that justice is served.

The topic of federal pornography has been getting tons of media attention recently, thanks to representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who just introduced a bill that would prohibit federal employees from looking at pornography on the job. You might have been under the impression that looking at pornography at work was already a big “no-no” for federal government employees, but Meadows asserts that law enforcement has not been enforcing the rules prohibiting such behavior.

We blogged several months ago about a Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official – a very high up bureaucrat – whom authorities alleged kept 7,000 files of pornography files on his computer. He may have spent six or more hours every day at work engaged with that pornography. The pornography he viewed was not child pornography, however. Apparently, he hasn’t even been fired yet: he is just technically “on leave.”

According to the investigative news source, Mic, pornography consumption may be rampant among federal government employees. Earlier this year, a Federal Communications Commission worker got in trouble for spending eight hours every week looking at pornography on the job, claiming that “he was bored.” Meanwhile, a Treasury Department official checked out over 13,000 porn images in a month-and-a-half at work. Per the Mic investigation, employees at the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Justice, The U.S. Senate, and The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission all extensively looked at pornography at work. A 2009 report from The Washington Times found that “one senior National Science Foundation executive spent at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clothed women without being detected.”

As someone who faces serious federal child pornography charges – particularly if you’re innocent – you may feel furious about the double standard. Why do some people get punished for pornography crimes, while other people don’t? Rather than rue your fate or shake your fist at the system, get clear about your options to protect your freedom and dignity. Call the team here at Seltzer Law, PA, at 1-888-THE DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) for a free and confidential consultation about your federal pornography defense. We're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

October 8, 2014

Major Phoenix Child Pornography Sting Yields Two Suspects

If you're currently under investigation for cybercrime-related charges in Florida, you may or may not be familiar with cybercrime sting operations in your city or state.

Authorities design sting initiatives to identify and apprehend individuals who participate in illegal activities online. In Phoenix, Arizona, a joint effort between the Phoenix Police Department and the Arizona Internet Crimes against Children Task Force recently arrested two men on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Early on September 11, detectives apprehended Andres Pena, a 33-year-old who allegedly possessed multiple videos and images of child pornography. Later that day, they took another man, David Ray, into custody after examining his work and personal computers.

Both Ray and Pena currently face 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

How Florida Cybercrime Sting Operations Work

In the state of Florida, authorities often employ sting operations to catch individuals engaged in unlawful activities online. These efforts include several components:

• Collaboration. The combined resources of local, county, and state police – as well as national organizations, such as the Internet Crimes against Children Task Force – provide high-tech capabilities and staffing to find potential internet criminals.

• Posting ads. Law enforcement officers posing as underage children – or adults offering the services of children – engage with suspects on dating sites and other forums.

• Arranging meet-ups. Undercover officers attempt to meet suspects at predetermined locations, where authorities can arrest the individuals.

Cybercrime sting operations do not always abide by the law, and the evidence collected may not be admissible in court. For instance, authorities sometimes abuse their power; defendants victimized by such efforts can decry this “entrapment” and use evidence of the abuse to win back their freedom. Although these investigatory efforts undoubtedly help police bring legitimate criminals to justice, they may also result in false accusations.

Do you believe you have been unfairly targeted by a cybercrime sting operation? The qualified Florida cybercrime attorneys at Seltzer Law, P.A. can help. Call us today at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) to schedule your free consultation and take your first step towards protecting your rights.

September 29, 2014

What Does Apple’s New Privacy Policy Mean for Florida Cybercrime Defense?

One of the ways authorities identify potential cybercrimes in Florida is by accessing their mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. However, a recent development at Apple will prevent law enforcement – and Apple itself – from getting into suspects’ iOS 8 devices.

This recent revelation, which Apple announced along with its new privacy policy, indicates the company will no longer be able to “unlock” users’ phones by overriding their passwords. They have accomplished this feat by changing the encryption they employ when a user chooses a password. Any recordings, emails, images, or videos on a device are now available only to those correctly entering this code.

Apple’s strengthened stance on security comes in the wake of a mass celebrity nude photo leak as well as accusations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden regarding government spying. The company aims to prove their commitment to customers’ privacy and absolve themselves of the ability to cooperate with authorities regarding criminal cases.

What This Development Could Mean for Cybercrime Defense

For users of the iPhone 6 (or any device operating on iOS8), this new policy presents significant implications for the privacy and security of digital information. Important considerations include:

• More difficult device searches. Going forward, authorities cannot view or access passcode-protected material on Apple devices, even with a search warrant.

• Thwarted surveillance. Agencies attempting to monitor an individual’s online activities can no longer do so on iOS devices.

• Passcode importance. Revealing your passcode to another person, writing it down, or choosing an easy-to-guess passcode reduces the efficacy of Apple’s security measures.

Fighting cybercrime charges can be a frightening prospect, but an experienced Florida cybercrime defense attorney can help you build a strong case. At Seltzer Law P.A, we can use our extensive knowledge of state, federal, and case law to defend your rights. Contact us at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) to begin your journey back towards freedom.