Nov 11, 2013 4:31 PM by Andrew Ellison - email@example.com
CORPUS CHRISTI - A recent ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals could be bad news for law enforcement in their fight against online child predators.
The ruling strikes down a part of the Texas Penal Code that authorities used to stop predators from talking in a sexual manner or distributing sexually explicit material to minors.
Captain James Brady heads up online crimes for the Corpus Christi Police Department.
"To say you're taking a tool out of our tool box, it's concerning to us. We want every weapon, every tool we can have to protect the kids," he says.
A judge ruled section 33.021 (b) of the Texas Penal Code unconstitutional because it is "overbroad because it prohibits a wide array of constitutionally protected free speech".
The ruling references provocative material like the novel "50 Shades of Grey" and some Shakespeare plays like "Troilus and Cressida".
The ruling basically says simply talking to a minor about the material is just exercising free speech.
Nueces County District Attorney Mark Skurka says this could make it tougher for law enforcement to catch predators early.
"They don't have this tool anymore to go after these kind of online solicitors. That's not to say that they're just going to stop doing it. They're going to try to find another way to do it and use another statute," he says.
C.C.P.D. says they're all over it.
"By no means is it all the sudden a free for all for child predators," Capt. Brady says, "We do have harassment, we do have a whole host of other tools that would be appropriate."
The easiest way for cops to arrest a predator is when the predator actually asks a minor to perform a sex act. Anything short of that takes time and evidence, something the statute used to help.
Now, law enforcement has to find other ways.
"Obviously, anytime there's a tool we can use to protect a child, we're going to use it," Capt. Brady says.
The problem is, now, there are fewer of them.
C.C.P.D. added that they've never had to pursue a case on that section of the penal code alone.
However, there are some cities, like Houston, that are having to revisit old cases prosecuted using mainly that section of the penal code.