Legal Columns

How One Text Can Lead to Serious Criminal Charges

The Internet and various forms of electronic communication available make it easy to talk to anyone about anything. But, when you have an online or text conversation, you might not know who exactly you're chatting with, and if that person ends up being a minor and your communications are sexual in nature, you may find yourself accused of a crime and facing harsh conviction penalties.

In Arkansas, it is illegal for anyone 21 years of age or older to exchange sexually explicit messages or images with a person under 15 years of age. This offense is referred to as "Internet stalking of a child," and it can be charged as a Class B or Class Y felony.

What Conduct Is Prohibited by Law?

Although the statute refers to Internet stalking, it is concerned not only with online communication. Exchanging sexually explicit messages with a minor by any means of electronic communication is an offense. Thus, something such as a text message asking for sex is a violation of the law.

For communications between you and a minor to be considered illegal, you must have known or believed that the person you were messaging was 15 years of age or younger.

Additionally, you must have contacted the individual to arrange a meeting for:

  • Sexual intercourse
  • Sexually explicit conduct; or
  • Deviate sexual activity

Under the law, it's also an offense to provide another individual with a minor's personal identifying information to set up a meeting for any of the reasons listed above.

What's important to know about Arkansas's internet stalking of a child statute is that it's not just communicating with a child that could get you in trouble. If you message a minor's parent or guardian to solicit sexual conduct with their child, you are also committing an offense.

But I Just Sent One Message. Why Was I Charged?

Some might believe that because the law is called Internet stalking of a child, they must have engaged in repeated behavior to be charged. However, this is not the case. Even sending one text message is enough for you to face allegations. The law does not explicitly state multiple messages must have been sent for the conduct to be considered an offense.

The Meeting Never Happened. Did a Crime Occur?

Internet stalking of a child is concerned not just with the meeting between an adult and a child but also with the messages sent. Even if the meeting never took place, whether with the minor or a person claiming to be their parent or guardian, you may still be charged with a felony.

What Are the Conviction Penalties for the Offense?

As mentioned earlier, Internet stalking of a child can be either a Class B or Class Y felony. The punishments for either are severe.

The offense is a Class B felony when a person arranges a meeting for a sexual encounter with an individual they know or believe is 15 years of age or younger or with that child's parent or guardian. In this case, the penalties include up to 20 years' imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000.

If the meeting occurred, the charge is elevated to a Class Y felony, even if the sexual act did not take place. The potential punishments include up to life imprisonment.

A conviction may also result in a sex offender registration requirement.

If you've been accused of a felony or sex crime in Northwest Arkansas, reach out to our attorneys as soon as possible. At Norwood & Norwood, P.A., we have nearly a century of combined experience and have successfully handled tens of thousands of cases. We know how to fight charges. Contact us at (479) 235-4600 today.