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Court upheld Miami Federal Cyber Crime Conviction; U.S. v. Lanzon

This was case is an example of a cyber crime investigation in Miami that focused on the using the internet to solicit minors for illegal illicit sexual activities. In U.S. v. Lanzon the defendant was indicted for persuading a minor to “engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any person an be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so.” (18 U.S.C. §2422) The indictment alleged an attempt to violate Florida Statute §800.04(4)(a), (engaging in sexual activity with a person under 16.) Lanzon, who was convicted in Miami Federal Court, argued that the government failed to prove its case at trial and he filed a motion warrantless search of his truck, which yielded key evidence in the case.

A Miami-Dade Police Detective of the Sexual Crimes Bureau created an on online profile for himself as “Tom” living with his girlfriend and her 14 year-old daughter. He entered an internet chat room and began communicating with Lanzon. After a while the topic turned to Tom’s daughter. What ensued over the next several conversations was Lanzon’s expression about his sexual interest in the minor which turned to discussing a time and place near a motel to meet so Lanzon could act out his sexual desires. Lanzon was arrested when he approached the undercover officer at a prearranged meeting spot. Though he refused to give consent to search his truck, they used Lanzon’s key to enter the truck and seized specific items that they discussed he would bring: multi-colored condoms and mint flavored lubricant, evidence that corroborated his online conversations and his intent to engage in sexual activity.

Lanzon claimed the government failed to prove a violation of Fl. Stat. 800.04(4)(a) which he asserts criminalizes only a completed sex act. He also argued he did not take a substantial step toward completing the illegal act. The court of appeals disagreed, concluding the federal statute still criminalized the attempt to commit a sexual act even if the state statute required the completed act. Therefore even if the defendant attempted to persuade the minor to engage in illicit sexual activity but does not actually engage in the sex act, §2422 is still violated.

The motion to suppress the warrantless search of his truck was denied as the search must meet the criteria for a warrantless search of an automobile. The court upheld the search of the truck was mobile and the officers had probable cause to believe evidence was in the truck. Lanzon also argued a Constitutional Due Process violation because the agent was in bad faith in failing to preserve the instant messaging transcripts on his computer. This was denied for theses reasons:
• The agent had cut and pasted the text of the instant messaging communications on to a Microsoft Word document;
• Saved the Word document on to a floppy disc;
• He did not save any of the instant message conversations in original format to his computer hard drive to save memory;
• He compared the copy to the original before destroying.
The court found no bad faith in the officer’s decision to destroy the original text.