Court of Appeals 9/14/10

Chris Hanson would be proud.

Shaffer v. State.  Justin David Shaffer was convicted of exploitation of a child.  It was the classic “To Catch a Predator” set up.  Shaffer met “Chloe” in a Yahoo chatroom where they engaged in conversation.  The conversation switched from the chatroom to instant messaging and then phone calls where they agreed to meet in Byram, Mississippi.  Shaffer, thinking he was talking to a 13-year-old girl, was in fact talking to a 29-year-old operative of Perverted Justice.  When it came time to speak on the phone, another employee of Perverted Justice, with a child like voice, spoke with Shaffer.  When Shaffer arrived to meet Chloe, he was arrested by the Hinds County Sheriff’s Office.  He was convicted of exploitation of a child and sentenced to 25 years.  He appealed his conviction and his most cogent argument was that there never was a child involved and thus he could not be guilty of exploiting a child.  The majority of the Court of Appeals kinda agreed with him, to the point of reversing and rendering his conviction and remanding him to be resentenced under “attempted exploitation of a child” which carries the same penalty.

I think Justice Roberts, in his dissent, is dead on.

“We can all agree that Shaffer’s subjective intent was absolutely reprehensible. Be that as it may and as much as we may desire otherwise, the Mississippi Legislature did not define sexual solicitation of an “adult posing as a child” as a felony offense.”

Criminal statues must be strictly construed.  There can be no room for the “spirit” or “intent”  of a criminal statute.   It is hard to rise to the defense of someone who thinks he is speaking to a 13-year-old, the fact of the matter is, there was no child.  It is analogous to a “buy bust” where a Defendant sells an undercover officer a pound of baking soda.  The intent to commit the crime of sale of illegal narcotics is there, but the crucial element, illegal narcotics, is missing.  The Court points out the absurdity of requiring the  government to use actual children in this regard, but the fact that a person can be convicted for a crime that is physically impossible for them to commit is dangerous.  Again, this is the wrong kind of case to drum up any real sympathy for though.

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