Internet Sex Crimes

Internet Sex Crimes

Responding to societal pressure, in recent years both State and Federal law enforcement agencies have dedicated large amounts of resources into the investigation and prosecution of sexual offenses committed over the internet. As a result, the number of arrests and convictions for these offenses has skyrocketed. Although many of these offenses do not involve an actual victim, they should not to be taken lightly. The consequences of being found guilty of an internet sexual offense include sex offender registration, lengthy prison sentences, mandatory sex offender treatment, and the loss of any property associated with the crime. Having spent years working alongside law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of these offenses, I possess a unique understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different types of charges and how best to defend against them both factually and legally.

Internet sex offenses range from the online viewing and distribution of images of minors engaged in sexual activity to the use of the internet to meet or arrange to meet others for illegal sexual activity. With the help of huge amounts of money from the federal government, the investigations into these offenses by local law enforcement have become increasingly aggressive and sophisticated. Here in Washington the Seattle Police Department has an entire unit, the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit, that not only investigates internet crimes that occur in Seattle but is also part of a nationwide ICAC Task Force. This task force, funded with federal tax dollars, links together ICAC Units from cities, states, and countries all over the world and allows law enforcement agencies to work with each other and investigate cases across state lines and international borders.

My Experience

As a prosecutor I spent years assigned to work directly with the ICAC units of local and federal law enforcement agencies helping to advise and oversee their investigation of sex offenses committed over the internet. My duties included advising law enforcement on the state of the law and keeping them apprised of changes in the law, helping to draft, review, and approve search warrants, being present during “sting” operations in order to advise and help build strong cases, and charging, negotiating, and prosecuting cases once an investigation was complete. In addition, I attended weekly meetings of the local ICAC task forces and attended numerous national conferences and trainings on issues related to the investigation and prosecution of online sex offenses. As a result, I’ve got a keen understanding of how these cases are investigated, the strengths and weaknesses of different investigative techniques and factual scenarios, the legal issues that these cases present, and how best to approach plea negotiations and trial.

Notable Cases

State v. Brian and Hollie Beston: In October 2009 detectives in San Diego, California contacted Seattle Police Department’s ICAC Unit to notify them that a California sex offender had reported an ongoing online relationship with a Washington couple, Brian and Hollie Beston, during which the couple had sent him sexually explicit photos of them sexually abusing their four-year-old daughter. The man further reported viewing a live act of sexual abuse of the little girl by her father via webcam. I worked with the ICAC Unit to develop probable cause and obtain a search warrant to search the Beston’s home and computer. As a result, significant evidence of child rape and sexual abuse was obtained and the Beston’s were charged, and ultimately pleaded guilty to, multiple counts of child sexual abuse.

Read the Seattle PI Article About the Beston Case


About Wagnild Law

Zach Wagnild, Attorney

After spending the first 12 years of my legal career as a prosecutor, I opened my own practice in order to provide outstanding support and legal advocacy to those who are facing criminal charges. I purposefully keep a low caseload so that I can give each case my personal attention and so I have sufficient time to meet with my clients, discuss their options, and approach their case in the manner that is the most beneficial to them and their needs.

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