Computer Crimes

Craigslist Crimes in Texas

Texas’ Online Crime Marketplace: Craigslist Crimes, Craigslist Stings, and Craigslist Thefts

By | Computer Crimes, Theft

Craigslist-Related Crimes | New Crimes in the Digital Age

Craigslist Crimes in TexasGone are the days of flipping through your local newspaper’s classified section and circling your favorite ads. These days, Craigslist is the new classifieds of Fort Worth and Dallas. It is the one stop shop source to find a new car, truck, job, furniture, garage sale, or even a love interest. With the rise of Craigslist (and other online forums), there has also been an increase in criminal activity ranging from online scams to fraud and theft. Police stings based on advertisements from Craigslist are also common. Police have seen such a meteoric rise in these “Craigslist related crimes”, that many departments have established “safe exchange locations where transactions can occur under the watchful eye of local law enforcement.

Whenever people meet to engage in a transaction, crime can occur. These crimes can take place anywhere, whether you are in an urban or rural area, in the parking lot of the local shopping center, or even on your own front porch. Craigslist is easily accessible, and is increasingly used to create opportunities for one party to take advantage of another. It is essential to be vigilant whenever meeting up with anyone from the Internet.

Craigslist Criminal Investigations | Fort Worth, Texas

With the advent of Craigslist, law enforcement agencies have seen a few specific areas of criminal activity increase rapidly. These investigations into alleged crimes often facilitated by Craigslist include:

  • Craigslist Robbery: Increasingly, people will post ads on craigslist looking to buy or sell an expensive item, such as a cell phone, and when the other party arrives take either the item or the money by force. Avoid being a target by meeting buyers or sellers at a “safe exchange” location set up by the police department.
  • Craigslist Prostitution: Craigslist is full of ads looking for love, and both men and woman can get caught up in activity they may not have even realized was criminal until too late. Craigslist is used to source potential targets, and can result in charges from soliciting sex with a minor to soliciting sex for pay. Police departments are increasingly using Craigslist to set up sting operations to catch people trying to engage in prostitution.
  • Craigslist Drug Charges: Police are seeing an increase in advertisements for illegal drugs posted on Craigslist using code words. Engaging in a dialogue with someone posting one of these ads could lead police to believe you are involved in drug dealing or drug trafficking through ads placed on Craigslist.

Defending Craigslist-Related Criminal Cases

Defense of Craigslist-related criminal charges can be a very complex proposition, requiring legal counsel experienced in these types of matters and the technology it involves. Forensic Computer Specialists and other experts may be necessary to the investigation and protecting your constitutional rights. Seek counsel from experienced criminal defense attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC, former prosecutors with an in-depth understanding of the criminal justice system and its applications in today’s Internet-oriented society.

Contact Our Fort Worth Craigslist Crimes Defense Attorneys Today!

At Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC, our attorneys understand how to investigate and defend against complex computer-related criminal charges, including Craigslist-related charges. To schedule a free consultation, contact us at our offices in Fort Worth, Texas, at 817-993-9249.

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Child Erotica Defense Attorney Fort Worth

Child Erotica is Not Probable Cause for Possession of Child Pornography

By | Computer Crimes

10th Circuit Holds that Possession of Child Erotica Does Not Give Rise to the Likelihood of Possession of Child Pornography

Child Erotica Defense Attorney Fort WorthPaul Edwards was charged with possession of child pornography (which is illegal) after officers executed a search warrant based on his possession of child erotica (which is not illegal). The search of Edwards’s home resulted in the discovery of thousands of images and videos of child pornography. Edwards filed a motion to suppress the images on the grounds that the affidavit failed to prove his possession of child erotica amounted to probable cause to believe that he also possessed child pornography. The court denied this motion and Edwards entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal the denial, and was sentenced to 63 months in jail followed by 7 years of supervised release.

Full Court Opinion: United States v. Edwards (USCA 10th Circuit, 2015)

The Probable Cause Affidavit that Led to the Search and Arrest

Edwards was identified by agents that were investigating a website for individuals suspected of child exploitation as an internet user that had shared 715 images of the same prepubescent girl, approximately 10 years old. In some of the photos the girl was clothed and in others she was “scantily clad.” The government acknowledged that the agents did not observe Edwards posting or viewing child pornography. Instead, the affidavit described the photos as child erotica and only provided evidence that Edwards possessed legal child erotica. The officer explained in the affidavit that those who collect child pornography are likely to collect child erotica but made no distinction that a possessor of child erotica is highly likely to also possess child porn. This opinion was used by the magistrate in issuing the warrant and again by the trial court in denying Edwards’s motion to suppress.

The Legal Significance: Child Erotica vs. Child Pornography

While it is legal to possess child erotica, it is illegal to possess child pornography. Here, child erotica is defined in the affidavit as “materials or items that are sexually arousing to persons having a sexual interest in minors but that are not, in and of themselves, obscene or that do not necessarily depict minors in sexually explicit poses or positions.” The affidavit further explains that child erotica “includes things such as fantasy writings, letters, diaries, books, sexual aids, souvenirs, toys, costumes, drawings, cartoons and non-sexually explicit visual images.

Child pornography is any visual depiction, whether authentic or computer generated, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. 18 U.S.C. §2256(8). To cross the line from legal child erotica to prohibited child pornography, there must be nudity that displays the genital area of the child and that display must also be lascivious. United States v. Horn, 187 F.3d 781. A photo is lascivious if it focuses on the genital area of a child and the apparent purpose of the photo is to arouse sexual desire. United States v. Kemmerling, 285 F3d 644.

Participation in Legal Conduct Does Not Prove Participation in Criminal Conduct

In many situations courts are hesitant to presume that defendants are more likely to engage in certain illegal activities based on their participation in a certain legal activity, as they should be. Similarly, here, the appellate court found that there is no sufficient connection between the posting of child erotica, a legal activity, and the possession of child porn that establishes probable cause to believe that child porn will be found in the home of the person who posted child erotica.

While some courts have found that the possession of child erotica is one factor that can be used to support probable cause of the possession of child porn, no court has found that one factor to be probative in making a probable cause determination. Instead, the courts look to the totality of the circumstances surrounding defendant’s said possession of child erotica to prove that such circumstances amount to the high probability that defendant is also in possession of child pornography.

The appellate court found that the affidavit lacked information based on the officer’s experience about the type of materials possessors of child erotica are highly likely to maintain and lacks any evidence to show that Edwards was a collector of child pornography. Further, the court determined that the information in the affidavit failed to provide a “substantial basis” to find probable cause that child porn would be found in Edward’s home.

Ultimately, this case is the perfect example that mere possession of child erotica cannot be used to prove that a defendant has committed the offense of possession of child pornography.

Computer Crimes defense attorneys in Fort Worth

US Supreme Court Decides Restitution Issue in Child Pornography Case

By | Computer Crimes

Computer Crimes defense attorneys in Fort WorthIn any criminal case involving sexual exploitation of a child in the making, possessing, or distributing of child pornography, there is an issue of restitution to consider.  More specifically, if the child suffered monetary damages, who is responsible to pay restitution to the child to make him/her whole?  Is it the person that created the images, the person that distributed them on the internet, the end user that downloads and possesses the images, or everyone?  The courts were split on this issue.   Some held that every person along the way should pay their share of the damages.   Other courts held that each person is responsible for the total damages.

The Supreme Court has now weighed in the issue and has held that every offender is liable for their share of the damages, not more.   Below is the synopsis of the case wherein the Supreme Court considered this issue.

Issue: Is a person who was convicted of possession of child pornography liable to pay full restitution to the victim (the child subject) or should the court limit damages to only that which was proximately caused by the convicted person’s actual role in the exploitation?

Paroline v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1710 (2014)– Petitioner Randall Paroline pled guilty to possessing 150 to 300 images of child pornography, including two images of a girl named “Amy” being abused by her uncle at the age of eight or nine years old.  Amy’s uncle took a number of photographs depicting her in sexually abusive poses, and distributed the materials over the Internet.   However, Amy first learned that images of her abuse were being trafficked on the Internet when she was 17.  This new information caused renewed trauma from the events that took place when she was a young girl and it made it difficult for her to recover from the abuse.

Amy then sought restitution under 18 U.S.C. §2259 from Paroline even though he was not the originator of the pictures. Paroline argued that a victim’s damages must be proximately caused by the defendant’s conduct because any other result would turn child exploitation restitution proceedings into a procedural nightmare. Amy argued that §2259 did not require proximate causation for a victim to be entitled to full damages; otherwise, the victims of child abuse would bear the burden of collecting tiny shares of restitution from several defendants and might never receive full recovery.

The District Court declined to award restitution because the Government had failed to meet its burden of proving what losses, if any, were proximately caused by the Paroline’s offense. The Fifth Circuit held that §2259 did not limit restitution to losses proximately caused by the defendant, and each defendant who possessed the victim’s images should be made liable for the victim’s entire losses from the trade in her images, even though other offenders played a role in causing those losses.

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Fifth Circuit’s decision and held that restitution is proper under §2259 only to the extent the defendant’s offense proximately caused a victim’s losses. Victims should be compensated and defendants should be held accountable for the impact of their conduct on those victims, but defendants should only be made liable for the consequences and gravity of their own conduct, not the conduct of others. Where it can be shown both that a defendant possessed a victim’s images and that a victim has outstanding losses caused by the continuing traffic in those images but where it is impossible to trace a particular amount of those losses to the individual defendant by recourse to a more traditional causal inquiry, a court applying §2259 should order restitution in an amount that comports with the defendant’s relative role in the causal process that underlies the victim’s general losses. Therefore, in determining the proper amount of restitution, a court must assess as best it can from available evidence the significance of the individual defendant’s conduct in light of the broader causal process that produced the victim’s losses.

In short: each defendant pays his or her fair share of the victim’s losses in a child pornography matter.