Florida Court Rejects Challenge to Child Porn Law

Rhett Pardon
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida appellate court has ruled that emails that lure children into illegal sexual activity are not protected by the First Amendment.

The 1st District Court of Appeal was asked to decide on the first-ever constitutional challenge to the Florida Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 1986.

The case involves the 2001 arrest of Jeffrey L. Cashatt, a retired 50-year-old U.S. Navy officer who surfed Internet chat rooms specifically designed to help older men meet boys.

Cashatt, who argued that the child porn law violated his rights to free speech, invited a vice detective posing as a 14-year-old boy to meet him in Jacksonville, Fla., for sex.

When he arrived at the meeting place wearing clothes he said in an email he would have on, Cashatt was arrested by police.

Cashatt pleaded no contest to one felony count of violating the act after a judge rejected several motions to dismiss the case by his lawyer, Lawrence G. Walters of Weston Garrou & DeWitt in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

“Consenting adults are free to engage in sexually oriented communication without violating the statute…,” the court said in its opinion. “Furthermore, sexually oriented communication on a computer online service which is viewed by a child is not a violation of the statute unless the sender of the communication ‘knowingly’ attempts by that communication to seduce the child.”

Walters told XBiz that he thinks that Florida’s child porn Internet law is overly broad.

“We think it’s unconstitutional and think that the case is worth an appeal to the state Supreme Court,” he said.

Attorney General Charlie Crist told XBiz in a press release that his office was “pleased with the court's decision, that criminals who prey on minors can be brought to justice," and that "All the tools in our tool box must be used to protect our citizens from harm."

Crist was one of the law's sponsors while serving in the state Senate.

The case mirrors a federal appeals court by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that was decided last week holding that a defendant who solicits a minor to engage in sexual activity over the Internet can be convicted even though his accuser is not an actual minor.

The case is Jeffrey L. Cashatt vs. State of Florida, No. 1D02-4638.