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Written by Attorney Seth Morris


The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children receives millions of reports each year of suspected child sexual abuse material online. With the role the internet plays in the sharing of these illegal materials, law enforcement officers have begun cracking down on sex offenses through online sting operations.

If you were arrested after getting caught up in a sex sting, call Morris Law today.

What Is a Sting Operation?

A sex crime sting operation is a law enforcement tactic that aims to catch people engaging in illegal sexual activities. Most stings focus on prostitution or sex crimes involving minors. Many sting operations are conducted by having law enforcement officers impersonate minors to catch perpetrators who may be looking for illegal sexual activities with minors.

Stings can be carried out in many ways: on dating websites, web chatrooms, instant messaging apps, social media, and more. You may imagine stings culminating in a meetup, as in many TV shows. However, arrests can be made before the conversation makes it to this stage.

Are Sting Operations Legal?

Sting operations are generally legal in California. Law enforcement can use undercover officers and create opportunities for criminal activity if they don’t induce a normally law-abiding person to commit a crime they wouldn’t have otherwise. Stings frequently make news headlines across California as they can result in dozens of arrests and severe penalties for those charged.

Possible Charges and Penalties after a Sting Operation Arrest

Several charges could follow an internet child sex sting, including:

Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes (Penal Code 288.4 PC)

Under California Penal Code Section 288.4, arranging to meet a minor child for the purposes of sexual contact is a crime.  Charges under this statute often stem from internet communication like social media or texting. A meetup does not actually have to take place for the accused to commit the crime. An adult exchanging explicit photos, videos, or planning a meetup with someone they believe to be a minor can provide enough evidence for an arrest and charges.

Arranging to meet a minor child for lewd purposes is a wobbler offense: it can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case and the accused’s criminal history.  The penalties for being convicted could include incarceration, fines, and registering as a sex offender. 

Sending Harmful Material to Seduce a Minor (Penal Code 288.2 PC)

This statute criminalizes sending or distributing harmful material of a sexual nature to minors. This offense also requires intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify the sexual desires of either the sender or the minor recipient of the material. This offense is frequently charged in cases of sexting with a minor.

If the harmful material sent to a minor depicts a minor engaged in sexual contact, this offense can be a misdemeanor or a felony with a maximum of five years in state prison. If the materials involved are harmful but don’t depict a minor, the penalties can still be either a misdemeanor or felony, but with reduced maximums.

Contacting a Minor to Commit a Felony (Penal Code 288.3 PC)

Under this statute, it is illegal to contact or communicate with a minor to commit a sex crime or felony, even if the attempts at communication are unsuccessful. Even if no felony occurs involving the minor, you could still be charged.

The penalty for contacting a minor to commit a felony will match the potential penalty for the underlying offense; these are often felony offenses.

What to Do if You’re Arrested in a Sting Operation

If you’re arrested following a sting, remember and assert these rights to protect yourself:

  • Remain silent: Anything you say can be used against you in court. Politely but firmly state that you wish to remain silent and would like to speak with an attorney.
  • Don’t resist arrest: Resisting arrest can lead to additional charges. If you believe you’re being wrongfully arrested, comply with the officers’ instructions.
  • Don’t consent to searches: Unless police have a warrant, you can decline their requests to search you and your property, including your cell phone or computer.
  • Request an attorney: You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Ask for a lawyer immediately.

Defense Options for Sex Crime Charges after a Sting

It might feel hopeless if you’re arrested in a sting operation, but facing charges doesn’t mean you’ll face the harshest penalties. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you build a strong defense, such as:


If law enforcement officers induced or coerced you into committing a crime that you would not have otherwise committed, entrapment may be a viable defense. Entrapment occurs when the government’s actions lead or persuade an individual to commit a crime. For example, if an undercover officer used undue pressure or harassment to induce you to commit a crime, you may be able to argue you were entrapped.

Insufficient Evidence

The burden of proof in criminal cases lies on the prosecution, meaning they must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to convict you. If they don’t have evidence strong enough to prove each element of the offense you’re charged with, you shouldn’t be punished. Your attorney will review the evidence against you to identify and attack weak points in the prosecution’s case.

Lack of Intent

Some sex crimes require specific intent to commit the alleged act. Your attorney may be able to demonstrate that you did not have the requisite intent to engage in criminal conduct.

Call Morris Law to Defend Your Rights after a Sex Sting

Being convicted of a sex crime after an online sting can have lifelong consequences. In addition to criminal penalties, you could also face the restrictions of being required to register as a sex offender and the stigma of a sex crime conviction on your record.

A criminal defense lawyer at Morris Law can help you fight any sex crime charges you might be facing after a sting operation. We’ll fight aggressively for you, challenging the evidence in the prosecution’s case to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

Call (510) 225-9955 today for a free consultation.