Friday, August 05, 2005

Sexual Predator Rights Trump Public Children Safety

The practice has become widespread undercover agents pose as children on Internet chat rooms. When adults strike up online relationships and arrange for sexual liaisons, police are waiting at the rendezvous point with handcuffs and arrest warrants. But a ruling of a federal court judge in Kansas City is calling the legality of the tactic into question.
U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple acquitted Jan Helder yesterday of using the Internet to try to entice a child into sex. Helder’s attorney, J.R. Hobbs, had argued that his client didn’t break federal law because the person his client was accused of enticing wasn’t a minor but a Platte County deputy pretending to be a minor. The ruling came just minutes after a jury returned a Guilty Verdict. Helder, 42, of Mission Hills, Kan., had faced a sentence of five to 30 years. "We will appeal this," U.S. Attorney Todd Graves said. "Our program is going forward." Hoping to make a dent in what appears to be a widespread problem, the Platte County Sheriff’s Department has made online child exploitation a priority. Suspects accused of crimes in Missouri are prosecuted at the state level. Federal prosecutors handle suspects from other states. Federal prosecutors in Kansas City said about 30 men had been convicted on federal charges here using undercover officers or agents. Many more cases are pending. Because most of the defendants have entered guilty pleas, Helder’s case is among the first to have gone to trial. And Graves said Helder’s defense had not been used before in Kansas City federal court. Prosecutors said that several court rulings had upheld the use of undercover officers but that the U.S. Supreme Court has not spoken on the issue. Hobbs disagreed, telling the judge that some cases had suggested that the undercover officers cannot be used. A local detective who heads Internet sting efforts for the Boone County Sheriff’s Department to catch would-be sex offenders said today he’s comfortable with the way his agency operates. All offenders caught under the Boone County effort are charged in state courts, which have upheld the use of undercover agents posing as children, Detective Andy Anderson said. "One thing that would not affect us is that we’re charging people under the state statute," he said. "Our law seems pretty clear that the state legislature does not want to put up with this particular thing." The Boone County stings have netted eight suspects since October.