12/9/2009 9:50:00 AM Appeals Court ruling reinforces Arizona law on Internet sex lures
Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Out of staters who use the Internet to lure Arizona minors into meetings for sex can be prosecuted in courts in this state, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The judges acknowledged arguments by Sama Yegan that every element of the crime he was accused of was committed and, in fact, completed while he was at his computer in California.
But Judge Michael Brown, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel of the court, said that is legally irrelevant. The judge said Yegan knew that his intended victim was in Arizona.
More to the point, Brown said the plan hatched by Yegan was to have sex in Arizona with what he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
Even though there was no sex act committed in Arizona -- the "victim' turned out to be an undercover police officer -- Brown said that Yegan's clear intent while sending messages from California was to lure an Arizona teen. That, the judge said, meant he violated Arizona law.
Brown said that ruling otherwise would create bad policy.
"Sexual predators willing to travel in order to find underage victims would be given free rein to lure Arizona's minors for sexual exploitation with impunity so long as they did so from the safety of an out-of-state computer,' he wrote.
The law at issue makes it illegal to offer or solicit sexual conduct with another person knowing or having reason to know that other person is a minor.
According to court records, Yegan met "Erica' during an online chat session in 2005. The chat room was in the Arizona section of the site and was designated "romance.'
Yegan, using the chat name of "SammytheBullofLasVegas' conversed with "az_erica_az' who said during the first few minutes of their computer conversation that she was 14 and lived in Phoenix.
He provided a picture through his profile; she sent a photo of a girl with a teddy bear. They continued to chat over the Internet for several weeks, including talks of sexual activity, culminating with Yegan traveling to Phoenix to meet Erica in person so they could "hang out.'
He was arrested when he showed up in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant hoping to meet her. Police said a search of his car produced a napkin with Erica's name and the restaurant's address as well as unused condoms and two laptop computers.
In an interview with police, Yegan acknowledged he knew the girl was 14 and that he made inappropriate comments to the girl on his computer but said he was drunk during the first chat session. He described further conversations at just "frolicking' but denied his intent was to solicit sex.
A jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, placed on lifetime probation and required to register as a sex offender.
Yegan appealed, saying Arizona courts have no jurisdiction over his activities at his computer in California.
"Arizona has subject matter jurisdiction over crimes committed in another state if the result of such criminal activity has a substantial effect within Arizona,' Brown wrote for the appellate court. It is that principle, he said, which allowed the state to prosecute a man charged with activities in Mexico to smuggle himself into the state even though the solicitation took place elsewhere.
Here, Brown said, there was no question but that Yegan understood the effect on Arizona of what he was doing. That included initiating contact in a chat room designated for romance in Arizona and the fact that Erica said she lived in Phoenix.
"Further, Yegan repeatedly stated his desire to visit her in Arizona and expressed his fear over the consequences of the police discovering their relationship,' the judge noted.