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Fla. high court upholds state's Internet child-sex laws

By The Associated Press
11.17.06

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two state laws designed to crack down on sexual predators who use the Internet to prey on children do not violate constitutional rights of free speech and interstate commerce, the Florida Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The justices unanimously upheld statutes that make it a crime to use online services to lure or entice a child and transmit material harmful to a minor.

"The state has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors from harmful materials," Justice Peggy Quince wrote for the court in Simmons v. State of Florida.

The decision upheld the convictions of a Virginia man who pleaded no contest to violating both laws shortly after they were enacted in 2002 through e-mail exchanges with a Columbia County sheriff's deputy posing as a 13-year-old girl named "Sandi."

They met in an Internet chat room called "I like older men."

Michael John Simmons, 47, of Spotsylvania, Va., was charged with sending nude pictures of himself to the fictitious teen, asking "Sandi" for a pair of her panties and encouraging her to meet him for sexual activities.

Deputies arrested Simmons when he arrived at a Lake City motel to meet "Sandi." He reserved the right to appeal when he entered his pleas and was sentenced to five years on probation. The 1st District Court of Appeal then upheld his convictions and the laws.

Simmons appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, arguing both statutes infringe on the federal government's constitutional authority over interstate commerce. He also contended the transmission law violates free-speech and due-process rights of the state and federal constitutions.

The latter differs from a similar but broader federal law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state justices decided. They noted the Florida law is limited to electronic mail sent to a specific individual that a defendant knows or believes is a minor and thus does not affect adult-to-adult messages.

"The statute does not apply to Web sites or other materials posted on the Internet for general public viewing," Quince wrote.

It also covers only material that appeals to the "prurient, shameful or morbid interests of minors" that is "patently offensive" and "without serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors."

"Thus, a depiction of Michelangelo's David transmitted for an art history class would not meet the statutory definition," Quince wrote. "Nor would an illustration of human genitalia intended for a sex education or biology class."

The high court also rejected arguments that the laws violate the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause because they are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest and apply only to "electronic mail" sent to specific minors in Florida.

The justices, though, interpreted that term to include instant message communications as well as e-mail.


Related

N.Y. high court upholds state's Internet porn law

Man convicted under law had argued that it was overbroad, vague and unconstitutional because it restricted free speech and interstate trade. 04.12.00

California appeals court upholds Internet harmful-to-minors law
Judges determine that law 'targets only those who prey on minors to seduce them.' 08.11.00

N.D. Internet-luring law ruled constitutional
State high court says statute, which targets Web users who troll for underage sex partners, is intended to prohibit certain sexual conduct, not suppress speech. 12.03.03

N.H. lawmakers OK bill to protect kids online
Governor is expected to sign measure, which was designed to shield children from Internet predators and child pornographers. 06.09.08

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