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05-27-06, 10:47 AM #1
No more Perverted Justice arrests in Arizona...court rules against reporters
PHOENIX — Reporters pretending to be teens on the Internet to lure adults may be great television. But the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday it isn't enough to get their targets arrested.
In a unanimous decision, the justices concluded people lured to meet with what they think are teen girls can't be charged if it turns out the person doing the luring is not a minor, but in fact a TV reporter — or any other adult, for that matter. The court concluded charging someone with seeking out a minor for sexual purposes, by definition, requires an actual minor.
The only exception, they said, is if the person doing the luring is a police officer.
Wednesday's decision does not bar TV stations from what has become a popular tactic, especially during rating periods. In fact, news directors from two TV stations that have been involved in such reporting said they don't intend to abandon such efforts.
"It's not going to stunt, in any way, how we aggressively pursue stories we believe are important to our viewers," said Joe Hengemuehler. His station, KNXV-TV 15 in Phoenix, did the story that led to someone being arrested, and produced the case heard by the court.
Brad Stone, at KVOA-TV 4 in Tucson, said a story done by his station in conjunction with Perverted Justice, a volunteer organization dedicated to outing online predators, got one of the biggest reactions ever from parents who did not realize the kind of people their children could meet on the Internet.
"Parents were afraid of leaving their kids alone," he said.
Stone said his station's efforts involved a bit more than luring, with people also sending naked pictures of themselves to what they thought were teens.
But David Bodney, a media attorney, said the logic of Wednesday's ruling on luring statutes indicates the need for an actual minor as a victim probably would also apply to cases where people thought they were sending photos to teens. Without an actual teen as a victim, there is no crime, he said.
Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant Maricopa County attorney, said those TV "sting" operations may still have some use for prosecutors: Lotstein said his office will now charge the man whose indictment was tossed out by Wednesday's ruling with the crime of attempted luring — a crime the court decision suggests could be prosecuted without a real teenage victim.
The case against Jeremy Mejak stems from actions three years ago by a Phoenix television reporter who, pretending to be a 13-year-old girl, engaged in conversations in "chat rooms" as part of an investigation to show how the Internet can be used to seek out minors for sex.
According to court records, Mejak chatted online with the reporter, believing her to be a teen, and set up a meeting to have sex with her. When he showed up, though, he was greeted with video cameras.
Police were given copies of the tapes and transcripts of the online chat, resulting in the Maricopa County Attorney's Office taking the case to a grand jury and securing an indictment.
When a trial judge refused to throw out the case, Mejak appealed.
Justice Michael Ryan, writing for the high court, pointed out that the law says it is illegal for someone to lure someone that the person knows or has reason to know is a minor.
"The use of the phrase 'is a minor' suggests that the crime cannot be committed without the luring of an actual minor," Ryan wrote.
He pointed out that lawmakers created only one exception. Someone can still be charged if the person being lured is "a peace officer posing as a minor."
The justices rejected arguments by prosecutors that Mejak's conduct fell under the provision which said he had "reason to know" the person with whom he was chatting was a minor, as based on his own belief.
"Although a person may subjectively believe something that is not true, as Mejak did, Ryan said it is entirely different to have knowledge or a reason to know a fact."
But Ryan also said given the facts of this situation, a person could legally be charged with attempted luring or attempted sexual conduct with a minor.
Michael Terribile, Mejak's lawyer, said he concurs with that legal conclusion but said he will still attempt to get any new charges against his client dismissed on other grounds.
05-27-06, 11:20 AM #2
But then if the media used kids to lure the predators out; the courts would charge the media with something like contributing to the delinquency of a minor or endangerment.
Thank God for our legal system, someone has to stand up for the rights of perverts, child molesters and predators.
We are the thin blue line
and all the money in the world.
And no you can't have any.
05-27-06, 11:21 AM #3FishTail Guest
Charging them with an attempt makes sense to me.
05-27-06, 06:22 PM #4
Good. Now all the pederasts can move to AZ and out of my state.The virtue of spirit has no need for thanks or approval. Only the certain conviction that what has been done is right. -Jor El, as played by Marlon Brando
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