Court tackles 'sexual activity' meaning in statute

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed Thursday the term “sexual activity” – an issue in which there is scant law – and ordered a man be acquitted. The man was convicted under federal statute for attempting to entice a girl he believed to be less than 18 years old to engage in any sexual activity while they chatted online.

Jeffrey Taylor appealed his conviction under 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(b), in which the government relied on two Indiana offenses to convict him: touching or fondling the person’s own body in the presence of someone less than 14 years old with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of a child or the older person; and knowingly or intentionally soliciting a child under 14 years old to engage in fondling or touching intended to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the child or adult. Taylor chatted online with a girl he believed was 13 years old, but she was actually a police officer. Taylor fondled himself on his webcam and invited her to also touch herself.

The 7th Circuit addressed Taylor’s conduct and the meaning of the term “sexual activity” as it pertains to federal law. The term isn’t defined in the federal criminal code, but “sexual act” is defined. The judges had to decide whether “sexual activity” encompasses a broader range of acts than “sexual act.”

The judges hypothesized that perhaps because Congress didn’t define sexual activity, it considered the terms “sexual act” and "sexual activity" interchangeable. If they are synonymous, as they appear to be, then “sexual activity” requires contact because “sexual act” requires contact, wrote Judge Richard Posner.

“Congress will have to define ‘sexual activity’ more broadly than ‘sexual act’ if it wants to bring the kind of behavior engaged in by the defendant in this case within the prohibition of section 2422(b) via the fondling and child-solicitation offenses found in the Indiana criminal code, when the defendant neither made nor, so far as appears, attempted or intended physical contact with the victim,” wrote the judge.

In United States of America v. Jeffrey P. Taylor, No. 10-2715, the Circuit Court reversed Taylor’s conviction and ordered the lower court enter a judgment of acquittal.

Judge Daniel Manion didn’t agree with his colleagues’ assessment that the term “sexual activity” is the same as “sexual act,” but concurred with the majority that Taylor shouldn’t have been convicted. Judge Manion believed that Taylor couldn’t be successfully prosecuted for either of the Indiana crimes. He delved into one of the Indiana statutes used to convict Taylor – Indiana Code Section 35-42-4-(c)(3), which says it’s a crime when adults touch themselves in the presence of children less than 14 years old. But that statute doesn’t qualify the term “presence” with terms like “actual” or "constructive,” so Judge Manion believed since Taylor used a webcam when fondling himself, he wasn’t actually in the presence of the alleged minor. Other courts have held that phone conversations and webcams don’t put the adult in the presence of a child.

Judge Manion also argued Taylor couldn’t be convicted under Indiana law for solicitation because Taylor told the alleged minor that he didn’t want to meet her. He believed that statute was ambiguous, and when it was passed in the 1980s, Taylor’s conduct by using the Internet was unimaginable.

“While law constantly trails crime, in the context of sexual behavior and technology the problem is particularly clear—the old laws will not do. The legislature has to specifically address this lamentable behavior and determine what the law truly proscribes. Under our current laws, with the advent and prevalence of 'sexting' and virtual sexual behavior, many, many citizens are engaging in behavior that could make them felons,” he wrote. “It is not enough to let the courts figure it out and to try to see if old definitions fit this new and troubling behavior.”


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  1. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  3. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  4. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  5. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well