Court Reverses Dismissal of Case Based on Lack of Real Victim in Online Sex Sting – Georgia v. Grube
I write here fairly often about undercover online operations in which police officers pretend to be underage girls in order to lure adults who want to have sex with children. The courts have consistently ruled that this is not illegal entrapment and that the resulting criminal charges—usually including attempted enticement of a minor—is valid even though no actual minor was involved in the attempted crime. So I was interested to see the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling in Georgia v. Grube, in which it reversed two lower courts that found Timothy Grube’s indictment didn’t adequately identify the victim. Grube was charged with attempted child molestation after arranging to meet “Tiffany,” a purported 14-year-old girl, for sex. Tiffany was, of course, a sheriff’s deputy.
Grube, then 27, responded to an online posting by “Tiffany” saying that she was looking for something fun to do over a holiday weekend. Grube exchanged emails with the deputy and ultimately arranged to meet Tiffany for sex, and was picked up by police at the rendezvous point. He was charged in Georgia state court with attempted child molestation, attempted aggravated child molestation and computer pornography charges. But the trial court ruled that the indictment was deficient because it failed to identify the victim of the crimes charged. The state filed a second indictment with specific references to “Tiffany, a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl,” but the trial court agreed with Grube’s demurrer that it still failed to identify a victim. The state took it to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed dismissal of the indictment.
The Georgia Supreme Court took up the case and ultimately reversed. Past Georgia cases say that an indictment is sufficient if it contains the elements of the offense to be charged, appraises the defendant of what charges he must defend against, and accurately shows whether, if applicable, he can plead previous acquittal or conviction. The state argued that using the name Tiffany is sufficient in this case because that’s the only name by which Grube knew the victim. The high court found that incomplete names are adequate in this case. Including the name of the undercover officer does not improve a defendant’s ability to understand the charges against him, the court said. This follows past cases allowing the use of an alias, nickname or false name in indictments, the court noted, and is distinguishable from a 2000 case with similar facts, in which the indictment failed to note that there was no actual child.
I am not surprised to see this decision. As I noted above, the courts have been consistent in ruling that criminal child enticement charges are valid even when the “children” in question are undercover officers pretending to be children online. States generally want their criminal justice system to work even when someone involved in a crime is unknown or has an alias, so there are usually past cases dealing with issues similar to the ones here—though these online child enticement cases themselves, like all cyber crimes, are of course relatively new. Importantly, however, the Georgia high court didn’t reach the issue of whether a crime with an entirely fictional victim should be a crime. Though courts have largely declined to find a problem with this, it’s worth asking whether anyone is hurt in a situation like Gruber’s.
Based in Miami, Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients across the United States who are charged with serious crimes involving computers, technology and the Internet. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us a message online.
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