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Decision resolves conflicting appellate rulings

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An offense of attempted dissemination of matter harmful to minors can be committed when a defendant attempts to transmit prohibited matter by the Internet to an adult police detective posing as a minor, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The high court granted transfer to Andrew King v. State of Indiana, No. 49S04-0911-CR-507, to resolve a conflict in Indiana Court of Appeals decisions in Alpin v. State, 889 N.E.2d 882 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008), and Gibbs v. State, 898 N.E.2d 1240 (Ind. Ct. App. 2008). King argued there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of attempted dissemination of matter harmful to minors because the material was actually received by an adult police officer. He claimed because it's not a crime to send such material over the Internet to someone who is over 18, it isn't a crime to attempt to engage in that activity. King also argued that subsection (b)(3) of the dissemination statute operates to exempt the statute from the general attempt statute and indicates the legislature's intent to not criminalize the transmission unless the recipient is actually a minor.

The justices examined the statutes defining attempt and dissemination of matter or conducting performance harmful to minors and upheld King's conviction. The general attempt statute applies to dissemination of matter harmful to minors and the crime of attempted dissemination isn't precluded when the intended minor recipient is actually an adult, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. The essence of an attempt is that one or more elements of an offense are not fully satisfied, but a defendant still has taken a substantial step toward the offense while acting with the requisite intent of that offense. If each of the elements of an offense is fully satisfied, the charged offense will be the offense, not an attempt of that offense.

In King's case, he sent the inappropriate matter to someone he thought was younger than 18 years old. The only element not met for the offense of disseminating matter harmful to minors is that the recipient was not younger than 18. Because the recipient was not a minor, the defendant was charged with attempted dissemination, rather than dissemination, of matter harmful to minors, wrote Justice Dickson.

As a result of their ruling, the justices disapproved and overruled Alpin and Gibbs to the extent that they may be read to prohibit convictions for attempted dissemination of matter harmful to minors where the supposed minor is actually an adult.

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