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Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms Online Child Sting Convictions

June 12, 2013

In Brown v. State, the defendant was convicted of criminal attempt to commit child molestation and computer child exploitation after the State introduced evidence that in 2009, he responded to a Craigslist ad seemingly posted by a 14 year-old female named “Brittany” looking for companionship.

A Whitfield County sheriff’s deputy created the ad and engaged in conversations with Brown posing as the girl. Brown and the deputy communicated by email and instant message and discussed plans to meet and engage in sexual conduct.  The two arranged a date and time to meet and, when Brown arrived at the location, Whitfield County law enforcement placed him under arrest.

The Georgia Court of Appeals held that the State presented sufficient evidence to convict Brown of the attempted child molestation charge. It found that Brown took a “substantial step” toward engaging in indecent behavior with a child under 16 years of age by traveling from his home to the arranged location to meet an individual Brown believed to be a 14 year-old girl. The Court held that although “Brittany” did not exist, Brown’s intentions were enough to convict him of attempted child molestation.

Second, the Court held that Georgia had appropriate jurisdiction over Brown. As a resident of Tennessee, Brown argued that Georgia did not have jurisdiction over the alleged offense as his only connection to the state was prompted by the Whitfield County deputy’s communications. However, Georgia law provides that someone who commits a crime either wholly or partially within the state is subject to prosecution in Georgia. Brown committed at least part of the offense in Georgia by traveling to Georgia for the meeting.

Also, even though Brown used his computer in Tennessee to communicate with the deputy, Georgia courts have held that with offenses involving online communications, venue is also proper in the county where the unlawful communication is received. See Patel v. State, 282 Ga. 412, 412-413, 651 SE2d 55 (2007) (defendant alleged to have violated O.C.G.A. § 16-12-100.2 by sending explicit internet messages to a law enforcement officer posing as an underage girl “utilized computer on-line services in [the recipient’s] [c]ounty,” even though he sent the messages from a different county). Thus, the Court of Appeals concluded that Brown utilized computer on-line services in Georgia, where the law enforcement officer posing as “Brittany” received the messages. As a result, the Court held that he committed the offense of computer child exploitation at least partly within the state of Georgia.

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