You might be aware of the popular show “To Catch A Predator,” which aired on Dateline NBC from 2004 until 2007, where decoys posed as young teenagers and joined internet chatrooms. From there, cooperating police departments would arrest adult chatters in sting operations for solicitation of a minor for sex.
In today’s media age, services like YouTube allow everyday people to film and upload any video falling within Terms of Service. As a result, many users take vigilante roles and replicate the practices of Dateline NBC adapted for a more modern age: joining apps like Snapchat or Instagram and making themselves open to messages from adults.
If you ever find yourself on the other end of a camera lens while the videographer reads you a chat log, don’t panic or do anything erratic. Read on to learn more about:
- Solicitation and Assignation in Maryland, along with their penalties;
- The limitations of vigilante justice and sting considerations; and
- Knowing your rights and possible defenses in court.
What is Solicitation and Assignation?
Under Maryland Law, sexual solicitation of a minor means urging, enticing, or requesting an underage person in person, by mail, via electronic means, or phone to commit a sex act. Along with this, assignation refers to an appointment or arrangement for sex, prostitution, or lewdness—meaning sex does not have to happen for you to be charged with a crime.
Most of the charges at any time of child predator sting involve solicitation of a minor in some capacity. But, of course, the sex acts alluded to in the chat logs never happen; typically, police arrest the attending individual as a part of the sting before anything explicit occurs.
Solicitation is a felony crime in Maryland and carries up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, and possible registration on the Sex Offender Registry. Depending on the case, there might be additional charges tacked on, which could add more penalties.
These are charges that you want to avoid as much as possible.
How Much Should I Be Worried About YouTube Vigilantes?
Whether you are in front of a single handheld camera or an entire media crew, take it seriously. Surrounded by recording equipment is the last place you want to be.
Keep in mind, though, that there is a chance the person behind the person isn’t a police officer. Your Fifth Amendment rights always hold in any circumstance; if someone’s filming you, chances are they might submit it to law enforcement for further review. In that case, you are not obligated to say anything.
This video might end up on the internet, too, so do not openly agrees the person filming. As we will talk about later, there are instances where vigilante justice videos of this sort take a turn for the worst when the people behind the camera escalate the drama.
Nowadays, online vigilantism seems few-and-far-between. YouTube bans many channels and takes down videos with work relating to luring people into sting-like situations. Though popular, the prevalence of said channels is waning.
That being said, if you find yourself in a non-law enforcement-led ‘sting’ and they threaten to submit all evidence to the police, take the threat seriously. There are situations where police have made arrests following the receipt of evidence from an independent source.
Nonetheless, you have options.
Fighting Solicitation Charges in Court
If you are arrested following an appearance in a video of this sort, call an attorney. Do not answer questions from law enforcement alone. Chances are, the video might show things your lawyer needs to understand. They can also help explain your options and find ways to discredit the methods of those filming the video.
For one, Maryland is a two-party consent state, meaning that for a call to be recorded, both parties must give consent. If at any time recording of a phone call happened during the video without your consent, your lawyer can use that to negotiate charges. This is a careless mistake often forgotten in place of wanting to push out entertaining content.
On the other hand, entrapment is a tool your lawyer can use yet again to demonstrate your innocence. Entrapment is a situation where law enforcement or other entities induce a normal person into committing a crime they otherwise would not commit. This is tricky, though. The burden of proof is on you to show you were not predisposed to said behavior, which is not as easy as it sounds.
Regardless, your lawyer will examine every piece of your case to gain an understanding of potential weak points in the prosecution’s argument, the legitimacy of the evidence, and your own personal record. If you find yourself at the end of solicitation charges, contact our offices for a free initial consultation. You do not want to take these lightly; as mentioned earlier, solicitation carries heavy punishments.
Call the Law Offices of James E. Crawford & Associates can help. We are here to give you the most aggressive and effective defense that we can give.