The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the same issue in two separate Indiana cases of men chatting on the Internet with people they believed to be teen girls: whether there was evidence the men had taken "substantial steps" toward committing the crimes of enticing a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Donald Zawada and Derek Davey appealed their convictions of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 2422(b) - knowingly persuading, inducing, enticing, or coercing a person under the age of 18 to engage in criminal sexual activity. In both cases, the men had been conversing online with undercover police whom they believed were underage girls. Both men had sexual conversations with the "girls" and discussed meeting; Davey actually made the drive to where he believed the girl lived.
The federal appellate court examined its recent decision in United States v. Gladish, 536 F.3d 646 (7th Cir. 2008), to determine the men had taken substantial steps toward committing the crimes. Gladish held that mere talk in an Internet chat room couldn't support a conviction under Section 2422(b), but more concrete steps are necessary, such as arranging a meeting, buying gifts, or "grooming" someone for a sexual relationship.
In United States v. Donald Zawada, No. 08-1012, Zawada had a conversation about making a date to meet with who he thought was an underage girl and discussed a specific time and day, but the meeting never happened. He also had several conversations with the "girl," which could have been considered grooming her for a sexualized relationship, wrote Judge Diane Wood.
Zawada claimed he wasn't the person associated with the screen names linked to the explicit conversations, but the jury found he had committed a substantial step toward completing the offense and that he was the one chatting with the alleged girl.
Davey's case is similar to Zawada's except that Davey originally pleaded guilty to the charges but later tried to withdraw his appeal. In United States v. Derek S. Davey, No. 07-3533, Davey was arrested in Northern Indiana after he had driven to a restaurant to call the "girl" he had been speaking to about making arrangements to sneak into her house. Before sentencing, Davey retained a new attorney and tried to have his plea thrown out; the District Court denied his motion to withdraw.
On appeal, he argued that he pleaded guilty to something that isn't an offense under Section 2422(b), and that is enough to invalidate his plea, wrote Judge Wood. The 7th Circuit found Davey's admissions in his plea agreement go "a long way" toward meeting the substantial step criteria established in Gladish - he made arrangements to meet with the "girl" he was chatting with and he drove to meet her at a pre-arranged spot.