New changes to online solicitation laws in Texas

Protecting our children from sexual predators is, and should be, one of our highest priorities. But freedom of speech is one of the defining principles of any truly free country.

And the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is trying to protect both our children and our freedom.

On Wednesday (Oct. 30), the Court struck down a 2005 state law that made sexually explicit communication between an adult and a minor a third-degree felony, which is punishable by ten years. The unanimous ruling said the law violated the First Amendment by pre-emptively prosecuting someone who may have been communicating with a minor, but may not have had any intent to act on their words.

"Sometimes in a kneejerk reaction to a problem, we just pass another law or create another rule," said Randall County District Attorney James Farren, "but when we're talking about protecting kids, it's hard to imagine that there can be too many rules and regulations trying to keep predators from going after our children." In the written opinion, the Court said the law was so broadly written and undefined that it could infringe upon free speech rights. The Court also said the law was unnecessary and redundant, as there are multiple similar laws that prohibit such acts.

"It's not needed because it's addressed other places in the penal code, and unless there is a compelling interest, and a law is written in a narrowly-tailored manner, a law is going to be found unconstitutional like that law was yesterday," said Amarillo-based criminal defense attorney Ryan Brown. "There are plenty of other avenues to protect kids, and the problem is that we can't let the government restrict free speech in such a broad manner."

"I want laws that protect children from predators," said Farren, "but at the same time, laws and government and rules just keep getting bigger and bigger and more and more intrusive, and so I kind of see both sides of the coin, but I wish they had upheld this particular statute."

In Judge Cochran's opinion, she cited the 1969 case of Stanley v. Georgia, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Georgia law prohibiting the possession of obscenity in one's home, as that court argued,

"First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end. The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought."

If you'd like to learn more about the law or read the Court's opinion for yourself, follow the links attached to this story.