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Florida's child protection law survives challenge

A Florida State Act that makes it a criminal offence to use tools such as e-mail to seduce a child, or someone the offender believes to be a child, to commit an illegal sexual act, has survived a challenge that the Act violated the right to free speech.28 Apr 2004

In October 2001 Florida resident Jeffrey Cashatt used a posting on a bulletin board, and subsequent e-mails to arrange a meeting with what he thought was a 14-year old boy for the purpose of having sex.

Unfortunately for Cashatt, his target was a vice detective, and when he arrived on time at the agreed meeting place, in the clothes he had earlier described in an e-mail, he was arrested and charged under the Florida Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 1986.

Cashatt appealed to the Florida First District Court of Appeal, arguing that the Act breached the First Amendment Right of free speech, as it restricted his right to say what he liked in e-mails.

As the Court explained, under the First Amendment content-based speech restrictions such as this are not acceptable unless the regulation in which it is contained "promotes a compelling government interest" and is set out in the least restrictive way possible.

On Monday the Court rejected Cashatt's appeal on all counts, finding that the Act:

"promotes a compelling state interest in protecting children from persons who solicit or lure them to commit illegal acts, and is narrowly tailored to promote that interest, specifically limiting its prohibitions to communication intended to solicit or lure a child to commit illegal acts."

The Court added:

"We have grave doubts that the framers of the Constitution, had they the gift of seeing into the future, would have intended that sexually explicit e-mails sent to a minor for the purpose of seducing the minor to engage in illegal sexual acts be protected under the First Amendment, notwithstanding that identical communications to an adult would be protected."