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GA Court of Appeals Affirms Conviction in Craigslist Internet Sting

May 19, 2014

In Lopez v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions under Georgia’s Computer Pornography and Exploitation Act.

Specifically, the defendant was found guilty of using a computer internet service to seduce or entice a person that he believed to be a child to commit the offenses of child molestation and aggravated child molestation.

The record showed that in 2010, a law enforcement officer with the Catoosa County Sheriff’s department posted a personal ad in the “Women seeking Men” section of Craigslist. The officer was posing as a girl named “Sara”. Craigslist requires those who post in this section to confirm that they are at least 18 years old. The defendant responded to the ad and asked for personal details, including age. “Sara” responded that she was fourteen and would understand if this was a problem. The defendant responded that he did not have a problem with her age, would treat her like an adult, and would like to see a “dirty” picture of her.

The defendant and “Sara” arranged to meet at her aunt’s house when no one would be home. “Sara” asked the defendant to bring wine coolers and condoms. The defendant arrived at the arranged time and was arrested with these items in his possession.

At trial, the defendant testified that he believed he was communicating with an adult woman who was interested in role playing, and if “Sara” had turned out to be a fourteen year-old girl, he would have walked away.

On appeal, the defendant argued that the indictment was defective since the victim described therein was a fictional person created by law enforcement. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, finding that while the underlying purpose of the prohibited conduct is child molestation, the statute actually criminalizes acts of communication for that underlying purpose. Because of this, the statute is violated if the defendant believes that he is communicating with a child, even if the defendant is not in fact communicating with a child. The Court also noted that the statute specifically states that “the sole fact that an undercover operative or law enforcement officer was involved in the detection and investigation under [the] code section shall not constitute a defense.” Thus, the Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s argument that the characterization of the victim in the indictment was improper.

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