Court Doesn’t Buy Pedophile’s First Amendment Claim

Rhett Pardon
SAN FRANCISCO - In a novel case which tests rights of pedophile stalkers on the Internet, a federal appeals court ruled Monday that a defendant who solicits a minor to engage in sexual activity can be convicted even though his accuser is not an actual minor.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals looked at a challenge by Jeffery Meek, who appealed the legality of a search of his online records at America Online, as well as the search of his home, computer and vehicle.

The court was asked to decide whether a California law applies where the person believed to be a minor is actually an adult police detective posing as the minor and, if so, whether the statute is unconstitutional.

The 9th Circuit rejected challenges to search warrants and affirmed the conviction of Meek of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14 years of age.

California investigators in Walnut Creek and San Jose began a joint investigation into child exploitation following the discovery of photographs of a 14-year-old boy engaged in sexual acts in 1999.

Through cooperative efforts, the officers were able to locate and interview the boy and his father. The boy told police that the photographs were taken during a sexual encounter with a man who contacted him in an Internet chat room.

Upon learning of the situation, the victim’s father allowed detectives to transport the family computer to the police department for further investigation. The father provided permission to access his son’s AOL account, and the boy provided the detectives with the password.

Two weeks later, the father gave the detectives written permission to use his son’s AOL account and to assume the son’s identity in instant messenger conversations.

After accessing the computer, police received an email from someone with the screen name “Capnjeffry,” who was listed in the boy’s AOL instant messenger buddy list.

In the email, Capnjeffry indicated that he had communicated with the boy in the past, stated that he would “still be interested in hooking up some time,” and provided his phone number.

After several weeks of sexually graphic conversation with detectives who posed as the boy, he was arrested.

Meek argued that his communication with the minor was protected under the First Amendment despite the fact that he was conversing with police detectives.

The court didn’t buy the free-speech defense.

“Meek overstates the potential for constitutional problems because the intent to engage in criminal sexual conduct — which does not enjoy First Amendment protection—is a crucial component of the criminal liability,” the court wrote. “Thus, applying the cases to cases involving an undercover agent does not render the statute overbroad under the First Amendment.”

The case is U.S. vs. Meek, No. 03-10042.