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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.