Court to Decide Merits of Internet Solicitation Law

Court to Decide Merits of Internet Solicitation Law

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A 2001 law that prohibits people from soliciting sex with minors over the Internet is under scrutiny by the Utah Court of Appeals.

A lawyer for Raymond Silvaz, convicted of soliciting sex from an undercover police officer posing as a 13-year-old boy, argued Tuesday that the statute is unconstitutional and that it conflicts with hundreds of years of legal precedent.

Kent Hart told the Court of Appeals that Utah already has laws that prohibit attempts, solicitations, or conspiracies to commit crimes. Those laws are based on hundreds of years of precedent that punish people for preparing to commit crimes. Internet enticement should fall under the same umbrella, Hart said.

"So why not just charge him with a solicitation?" Hart said after the hearing. "We don't need this law. It's fluff."

Assistant Attorney General Karen Klucznik defended the statute's constitutionality, arguing that it does not duplicate existing laws. Klucznik said that the Internet enticement law allows prosecutors to go after suspected sexual predators when there might not be enough evidence to support a conspiracy or attempted solicitation charge.

In Silvaz's case, the prosecutor thought there was enough evidence to prove enticement of a minor over the Internet, but not enough to prosecute for attempt to commit sodomy with a child because the "child" was actually an undercover officer, Klucznik said.

Hart also argued that the prosecutor's closing arguments unfairly prejudiced the jury against his client. Silvaz maintained that he had been chatting with friends over the Internet. Prosecutors challenged him to bring those friends to the witness stand. Hart said it is the prosecution, not the defense, that had the burden of proof, Hart said.

Klucznik countered that none of the prosecutor's remarks were so prejudicial that they would have changed the guilt verdict.

The Court of Appeals can take between one month and two years to issue its opinion, but Hart hoped for a three-month turnaround.

Silvaz, who attended Tuesday's hearing, was sentenced to one year in prison, and he served nine months.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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