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Sexual predators in Wisconsin could face tougher penalties

Wisconsin's attorney general is trying to make it easier to prosecute those accused of using the Internet to solicit minors for sex. He's concerned that a loophole in the current state law could prevent these sex crime suspects from being punished to the full extent of the law.

Last year, many of the 126 people who were accused of using the Internet to contact children were talking to adult agents who were posing as children. Since the agents weren't actual children, the suspects are often only charged with an attempted crime. Currently, those accused and charged with an attempted crime face only half of the maximum sentence for soliciting an actual minor.

The attorney general says that since the suspects believed they were communicating with children, it should count as an actual completion of the crime. He's supporting a bill that would change state law to treat attempted child enticement the same as actually carrying out the crime. That would make the law similar to a drug sting, where contact with an undercover officer carries the same penalties as buying drugs from a real dealer.

The bill would also change how underage pornography is treated as part of a criminal investigation. Currently there are no restrictions on releasing it to defense attorneys, which the district attorney says could result in the material being copied and redistributed. Under the new bill it would be considered contraband, with restrictions similar to those on guns and drug evidence.

If the bill passes, it would mean more serious charges and stiffer sentences for those convicted of sex crimes where undercover officers are involved. It could also present challenges for defense attorneys representing clients accused of having underage pornography.

Source: Wisconsin Radio Network, "Punishing online predators," Andrew Beckett, Dec. 21, 2011.

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