Under Nebraska law, solicitation of a minor involves using an electronic communication device to ask a child aged 16 years or younger to meet for the purpose of engaging in a sexual act. The sexual act itself is recognized as sexual assault under the law, even if a minor agrees to it. But simply requesting, encouraging, or demanding that a child engage in various forms of illegal conduct is also considered a crime.
This form of child solicitation is termed “electronic solicitation” (or “online solicitation”). It is now the most common form due to widespread internet and mobile device use among all age groups. In the U.S., one in seven children are solicited for sex online. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before adulthood and many cases involve internet use.
Most states, including Nebraska, have laws specifically prohibiting electronic solicitation or use of a computer to lure children for sexually exploitive purposes. Local police and federal agents take this matter very seriously, and prosecutors aggressively pursue such cases.
It’s common for these cases to go to trial, rather than being settled out of court. Those accused in Nebraska could face a minimum three years of imprisonment if convicted. Of course, not every person entangled in a child solicitation matter is a sexual predator. Some are falsely accused.
Complicating Factors in Child Solicitation Cases
It is important to realize a charge of online solicitation of a minor applies even if the accused does not follow through with the sexual act, which is a separate crime itself. If the accused completes the sexual act against the child, they will be charged with sexual assault and not solicitation.
What If the Child Initiated Contact and/or Sexual Activity?
If the child solicitation charge involves a teenager or older child, it may be the case that the child is the one who initiated contact or proposed sexual activity, perhaps going so far as to lie about their age. But it’s important to understand that none of this matters in the eyes of the law: the adult is still exposed to the risk of being charged.
The child could, in fact, be a peace officer purporting to be a minor for the purposes of a covert operation, as in an internet sting. In Nebraska, it doesn’t matter whether the target of the solicitation is an actual minor or an adult posing as a minor. The charge still applies.
Nebraska does recognize the Romeo and Juliet defense, which prevents teenage lovers in a dating relationship from being convicted of serious sex offenses when they engage in consensual conduct. The minor must be no more than three years younger than the defendant at the time of the offense.
Some child solicitation defendants have attempted to use the freedom of speech defense without success. The First Amendment offers no protection to any speech used for the purposes of soliciting a minor.
Penalties for Child Solicitation in Nebraska
Nebraska law carries harsh penalties for a person convicted of solicitation of a child, with no statute of limitations on these charges.
If it is the defendant’s first offense, the person will be charged with a Class ID felony, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of three years and a maximum sentence of up to 50 years in federal prison. The person can be charged with a Class IC felony if they have a history of child solicitation or sexual assault convictions. A Class IC felony carries a minimum mandatory sentence of five years and up to 50 years imprisonment.
Other severe consequences, such as registering as a sex offender, can have long-lasting ramifications. Registration can damage a convicted person’s housing arrangements, relationships, employment, and professional standing to the point that the person never recovers from the stigma.
Even if an accused is not convicted of electronic solicitation, the allegation and investigation of a sex crime can taint their reputation. The Department of Health and Human Services keeps a registry of reports regardless of whether a formal charge is laid. In the digital age, allegations, even false ones, never go away.
Child Solicitation and Other Criminal Offenses
This charge can be a factor in other criminal offenses under Nebraska and federal law, including:
Internet sex crimes, such as child pornography and solicitation of a minor, often are charged as federal crimes and may include charges of wire fraud.
Enticement by electronic communication device:
This offense is broader than child solicitation for the purposes of sexual assault as described above and relates to a person using an electronic communication device to contact a child under 16 years of age for the purpose of transmitting explicit language, sound, writing, and images, or offer or solicit any indecent, lewd, or lascivious act.
Criminal child enticement:
This offense relates to a person knowingly, and without permission, luring or attempting to lure a child aged 14 years or younger into a vehicle or away from the child’s legal guardians.
This is a widespread offense in Nebraska and throughout the U.S. It involves selling human beings, including minors, into labor or sex slavery.
Child sex trafficking:
This offense refers specifically to recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting a minor for the purposes of a commercial sex act.
Prostitution and sexual exploitation:
In Nebraska, both prostitution and the solicitation of prostitution are illegal. Prostitution is defined by law as any person soliciting another person who is not his or her spouse to perform any act of sexual contact or sexual penetration in exchange for money or something else of value.
Sexual exploitation is defined by law as a person allowing, encouraging, or forcing a minor to solicit for or engage in prostitution, debauchery, public indecency, or pornographic photography, films or depictions.
Defending Child Solicitation Charges
Federal crimes come with serious penalties and require a lawyer experienced in federal criminal trials.
While the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty by law, the police and the public tend to believe the alleged victim in sex crime cases. Once a person is accused of a sex crime, the police and prosecutors may focus their efforts on obtaining a conviction, not clearing the innocent.Berry Law Firm provides aggressive defense for sex offenses, including online solicitation of a minor, in both Nebraska and federal courts. When preparing a legal defense, our attorneys strive to protect the reputation of the accused. Our sex crimes lawyers represent clients throughout Nebraska, with offices in Lincoln, Omaha and Seward. To make an appointment, call (402) 466-8444 or contact us online.