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In a victory for child protection advocates and law enforcement, a state appeals court rejected a first-ever constitutional challenge to the Florida Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 1986. The unanimous ruling handed down by the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee on Monday, holds that e-mails intended to lure children into illegal sexual activity are not protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “We have grave doubts that the framers of the Constitution,” the judges wrote in a per curiam opinion, “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.” “This statute prohibits terrible activity,” said Assistant State Attorney General Robert R. Wheeler, who worked on the appeal. “For someone to solicit or entice or lure a minor into sexual activity is terrible and if we can prevent that, it’s a big win for the state.” Attorney General Charlie Crist, who was one of the act’s sponsors while serving in the state Senate, issued a news release lauding the decision. “We are pleased with the court’s decision, that criminals who prey on minors can be brought to justice,” Crist said. “All the tools in our tool box must be used to protect our citizens from harm.” Though it is nearly two decades old, the act went unchallenged until retired U.S. Navy officer Jeffrey L. Cashatt, 50, argued that the law violated his rights to free speech. In October 2001, according to Monday’s ruling, Cashatt went into an Internet chat room specifically designed to help older men meet boys. He invited a detective posing as a 14-year-old boy to meet him in Jacksonville, Fla., for sex. Officers arrested Cashatt, who lives in Casselberry in Seminole County, Fla., when he arrived at the meeting place wearing the clothes he said in an e-mail that he would have on. Cashatt pleaded no contest to one felony count of violating the act after Duval Circuit Judge Peter L. Dearing rejected several motions to dismiss by Cashatt’s lawyer, Lawrence G. Walters of Weston Garrou & DeWitt in Altamonte Springs. Cashatt appealed both his conviction and sentence. The 1st DCA affirmed both, following case law set both by federal appeals courts and state appeals courts in California, Indiana and New York. Walters believes a federal appeals court would have reached a different result, saying the state courts are inexperienced with this type of law and called Florida’s law overly broad. “We are deciding what to do since this is a very broad law restricting adult speech and one that deserves review at a higher level,” he said. The appeals judges also rejected Cashatt’s Commerce Clause challenge to the law. “Where a state statute regulates even-handedly to effectuate a legitimate local public interest, and its effects on interstate commerce are only incidental, it will be upheld,” the court said, “unless the burden imposed on interstate commerce is clearly excessive in relation to the putative local benefits.” Bob Breeden, special agent supervisor for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Computer Crimes Center, said predators are using the Internet more to lure children for sex, but he said enforcement is also up because of federal funding aimed at creating 10 special task forces a year. Each new task force gets $300,000 for equipment and training. Detectives learn how to find and monitor specific chat rooms and how to pose as children. So far, there are 45 of these task forces nationwide, two in Florida.

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