ILNews

Judge examines definition of 'sexual activity'

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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A federal judge in northern Indiana has refused to acquit or order a retrial for a man convicted of using the Internet to expose himself to what he thought was a 13-year-old girl, even though it's unclear whether the man actually committed a crime as defined by federal statute.

In a 15-page order released today in U.S. v. Donald L. Cochran, No. 2:06-CR-161 PS, U.S. District Judge Philip Simon in Hammond denied the motions by defendant Cochran, whose online actions in July 2006 led to his prosecution of coercing and enticement of a minor.

Cochran visited an "Indiana romance" chat room and started talking online with a person identified as a 13-year-old girl; however "Ashley" was actually a detective with the Purdue University Police Department conducting an undercover sting operation to catch child predators online. They communicated seven times during several weeks, and more than once Cochran was accused of exposing himself through a web cam.

At trial, Cochran moved for an acquittal at the close of evidence arguing that his conduct didn't meet the elements of the statute, Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 2422. Judge Simon took the matter under advisement and submitted it to a jury, which returned a guilty verdict, but he admits the issue presents "a close call."

"What Donald Cochran did over the Internet last summer was undeniably a bit disturbing," he wrote. "But whether he violated the federal statute with which he was charged is not so simple a question. The statute in question ... is written in a way that only a lawyer could love."

That statute section prohibits people from using the Internet to persuade or entice children to engage in prohibited sexual activity, but doesn't define "sexual activity," Judge Simon wrote, noting the only limitation on the term is that the conduct must amount to a violation of a "criminal offense" which encompasses state law offenses.

In this case, Cochran's underlying criminal offense based on state law is Indiana Code 35-42-4-5c, or "vicarious sexual gratification; fondling in the presence of a minor."

Judge Simon determined the evidence was strong enough to prove the conduct was criminal, especially because Cochran didn't deny any of the factual allegations during trial.

"The more difficult question is whether the acts that form the basis for the commission of the Indiana offense ... amounts to 'any sexual activity' as that term is used in the federal statute," the judge wrote, comparing definitions of terms "sexual act" and "illicit sexual conduct" used repeatedly in various parts of the criminal code. "I presume that Congress meant what it said when it prohibited 'any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense."
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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