Eleventh Circuit Rejects Enticement Appeal Arguing No Minor Was Actually Involved – U.S. v. Slaughter
As unfair as it may sound, it’s well established by now that convictions for attempted enticement of a minor are sound even when the “minor” was made up by a police officer. That’s true in Florida courts as well as federal courts, both of which have rejected arguments that a police action creating a fictional minor is a form of entrapment. So I was disappointed but not surprised to see a decision from the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, rejecting an argument that conduct involving an actual minor is required for a conviction for the related crime of commission of a felony involving a minor while required to register as a sex offender. Chester Ray Slaughter of Georgia was charged with that crime as well as attempted enticement of a minor, in U.S. v. Slaughter. The Eleventh Circuit also rejected his attempt to suppress statements made to police.
Slaughter found a purported 14-year-old named Hanna on the Casual Encounters section of Craigslist. “Hanna,” who was really an FBI officer, said she would trade “fun” to an adult who would buy beer for her and a friend. Slaughter and the agent exchanged emails over nine days, in which Slaughter acknowledged that sexual contact would be illegal but planned it anyway. On the day of the meeting, officers tackled Slaughter as soon as he answered his motel room door, then handcuffed him and searched it. At the police station, Slaughter signed a Miranda waiver and agreed to a video interrogation, in which he admitted to the crime and provided passwords to both email accounts he had used. Before trial, the court threw out the motel room search but denied a motion to suppress Slaughter’s statements. After conviction, Slaughter appealed the denial of his motion to suppress; the denial of a request to split the two counts into separate trials; and argued that the sex offender registration crime required the involvement of an actual minor.
On the suppression motion, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the statement was not tainted by the illegal motel room search, noting that the Supreme Court has upheld the use of statements made outside the scene of the illegal search. On the severance of the charges, Slaughter argued that his requirement to register as a sex offender, an element of count two, was prejudicial to presumption of innocence in count one. The Eleventh conceded that this was prejudicial, but since the court had also heard substantial evidence of his intention to have sex with the “girls,” it concluded that there was no abuse of discretion. Finally, the Eleventh rejected the “actual minor” argument, but declined to reach the issue of whether a minor truly is required. Because the underlying attempted enticement statute is an attempt crime, the court said, it was sufficient to support the conviction.
In criminal law, it is accepted that “attempt” crimes are generally penalized as if the defendant had succeeded at the crime. After all, the reasoning goes, it’s usually not the defendant’s fault that he or she didn’t succeed at completing the crime. That logic underlies the reason why attempting to entice a minor online can be applied even when the minor was a full-grown police officer. In my experience, arguments that a minor was required usually fail, in part because of this and in part because defendants accused of attempting to seduce an underage teen or child are just not very popular. Nonetheless, every defendant has the right to a strong defense—and when they’re accused of this kind of crime, defendants are well advised to get one from an experienced attorney.
Seltzer Law, P.A., focuses its practice on representing clients accused of serious crimes involving computers, technology and the Internet. Name partner David Seltzer is a former cyber crime attorney with substantial experience applying the law to online matters. To learn more or set up a free, confidential consultation, send us an email or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).
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