Quad City Times
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Iowa law toughens penalty for online sex stings
A change in Iowa law that goes into effect July 1 will strengthen the state penalties in sting cases where people travel to meet “minors” they made contact with over the Internet but instead are arrested by undercover law enforcement officers. Clinton County Attorney Mike Wolf said the change will help prosecutors trying those cases and perhaps deter people from using the Internet to prey on minors. “It gives us more tools to work with,” Wolf said.
The law addresses a 2008 Iowa Supreme Court decision in which justices ruled that people who use the Internet or other forms of communication to meet minors and try to arrange to meet them with the intent of having sex could be charged only with attempted enticement of a minor, an aggravated misdemeanor, if the “minor” actually was an undercover police officer.
An aggravated misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of two years in prison. The change allows defendants in such cases to be charged with a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, if the defendant reasonably believes the “minor” is younger than 16. If the defendant believes the minor is younger than 13, the charge is a Class C felony, punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Officer Shia Cruciani of the DeWitt Police Department and Deputy Jessup Schroeder of the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office have been trained to conduct undercover operations by the Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Their work has resulted in eight arrests in Clinton County over the past two years. Six of those cases have been transferred to federal court, where the defendants face significantly more prison time if convicted.
In January, James Troutman of Clinton pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. Earlier this month, Nicholas Ivanovich of Cicero, Ill., was sentenced to two years in state prison after pleading guilty to a state misdemeanor charge. Two other defendants whose cases originated in Clinton County, Scott Allyn Halverson, 46, of Waukee, Iowa, and Terry Marshall Campie, 54, of Iowa City, are awaiting trial in federal court.
Wolf said he could not predict whether the law change will mean more cases will stay in state court because the U.S. Attorney’s Office chooses which cases will be prosecuted in federal court. The law change was spearheaded by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, in part because after the 2008 Iowa Supreme Court ruling, law enforcement agencies found it less fruitful to spend the time and resources conducting Internet stings that would result only in a misdemeanor charge, said Bob Brammer, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
Wolf said the change is an example of the Iowa legislature catching up with changing technology, which has given children greater access to the Internet and made them more vulnerable to predators. It will bring state sentencing guidelines closer in line with federal guidelines and will ensure more fair enforcement of the law, said Special Agent Gerard Meyers of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the agent in charge of the Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Meyers said the change will strengthen his task force’s efforts to protect children from online predators.