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. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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