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Criminal Defence Articles

What is the maximum sentence for Sexual Communication with a Child?

Are you facing a charge of sexual communication with a child and wondering what the maximum sentence for this offence might be? If so, you can be reassured by knowing that concern about potential sentences is one of the most common things clients ask their solicitors. While the sentence for sexual communication with a child can be very serious, there are steps that a solicitor can take to help mitigate the consequences (if indeed you are ultimately convicted). In this article, we outline the offence of sexual communication with a child, then look at the maximum sentence you can receive, the main points from the sentencing guidelines, how a solicitor can help reduce the sentence you receive, and where to go for more help.

What is the offence of sexual communication with a child?

The offence of sexual communication with a child in England is governed by Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. It was introduced to tackle the rising concern over adults making inappropriate contact with children through communication channels such as social media, emails, or text messages. This offence criminalises any individual who sends a sexual message to a child, intending to obtain sexual gratification, when the child is under 16 years old, and the person does not reasonably believe the child to be 16 or over.

For the prosecution to secure a conviction for the offence of sexual communication with a child, they must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant intentionally communicated with the child.
  • The communication was sexual or the content of the communication was intended to elicit a sexual response from the child.
  • The child was under 16 years old at the time of the communication.
  • The defendant did not reasonably believe that the child was 16 or over.
  • The defendant intended to obtain sexual gratification from the communication.

Examples of sexual communication with a child include:

  1. Sending explicit photographs to a child via a social media platform.
  2. Engaging in sexually suggestive chat with a child through instant messaging.
  3. Sending a child sexually explicit text messages.
  4. Using a dating app to solicit sexual conversation from a child.
  5. Communicating sexual fantasies to a child via email.
  6. Asking a child to send sexually explicit photos or videos.
  7. Engaging in a sexually charged video call with a child.
  8. Sending a child links to adult websites or explicit content.
  9. Requesting to meet a child for sexual purposes through online communication.
  10. Encouraging a child to engage in sexual acts while communicating via a gaming chatroom.

In cases of sexual communication with a child, various types of evidence may be utilized to support the prosecution’s case. This evidence often includes digital communications such as text messages, emails, social media interactions, or chat transcripts, which may contain explicit or inappropriate content exchanged between the defendant and the child. Additionally, digital evidence may encompass images or videos exchanged or shared between the parties involved. Forensic analysis of electronic devices, such as computers or smartphones, may uncover further evidence of communication or intent. Witness statements from the child or individuals who observed the interactions may provide additional corroboration.

Given the serious nature of this offence, it is very important for anyone facing such charges to seek professional legal advice from a criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity.

What is the maximum sentence for sexual communication with a child?

In England and Wales, the maximum sentence for the offence of sexual communication with a child is two years’ imprisonment. This offence is outlined under section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The offence occurs when an adult intentionally communicates with a child under the age of 16 for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, where the communication is sexual in nature or intended to elicit a sexual response from the child.

The Sentencing Council provides guidelines to ensure that sentences are consistent and proportionate. While the maximum sentence is two years, the actual sentence will depend on various factors such as the severity of the offence, the ages of the offender and the child, and any previous criminal history of the offender. It is essential to remember that the Sentencing Council guidelines aim to reflect the seriousness of the offence and the harm caused to the victim, thereby ensuring that justice is appropriately served.

What factors influence the sentencing of sexual communication with a child?

When sentencing for the offence of sexual communication with a child, a judge will take into account several key factors outlined in the Sentencing Council guidelines. These considerations can broadly be classified into aggravating and mitigating factors, and they play a crucial role in determining the final sentence.

Aggravating factors:

  1. Age of the Victim: If the victim is particularly young, this will generally be viewed as an aggravating factor, indicating a higher degree of harm.
  2. Pre-existing Relationship: If there was a relationship of trust or authority between the defendant and the victim, this will aggravate the offence.
  3. Grooming: Any evidence of grooming behaviour, such as attempts to build an emotional connection with the child or manipulate their feelings, will increase the seriousness of the offence.
  4. Previous Convictions: Prior convictions, especially those of a similar nature, will likely lead to a harsher sentence.
  5. Extent of Communication: If the communication was persistent, explicit, and involved multiple instances or extended over a significant period, this will be regarded as more serious.
  6. Motivational Factors: Communications that were intended to lead to a physical meeting or further criminal activity will be heavily scrutinised and potentially lead to a harsher penalty.

Mitigating factors:

  1. Early Guilty Plea: A defendant who pleads guilty at the earliest opportunity may receive a reduced sentence as this can indicate remorse and a willingness to take responsibility for their actions.
  2. Lack of Prior Offences: A previously clean criminal record may be considered a mitigating factor.
  3. Mental Health Issues: Documented mental health issues that may have influenced the defendant’s behaviour can be considered for a lesser sentence.
  4. Remorse and Rehabilitation: Genuine expressions of remorse and efforts to undergo treatment or rehabilitation can have a positive impact on the sentencing outcome.

If you or someone you care about is facing such a sentence, getting help from a solicitor early on is crucial. ​​Solicitors can assist you in understanding the maximum sentence you might face by analysing and explaining similar cases, considering factors such as aggravating and mitigating circumstances as outlined here, examining previous legal precedents, and unpicking sentencing guidelines. They can then help you understand what you might face by lining up their analysis with the specific facts of your case and drawing parallels.

How can a solicitor help with reducing the sentence for sexual communication with a child?

Facing charges for sexual communication with a child is a grave and complex situation that requires expert legal guidance. A solicitor can help you navigate the legal system and potentially reduce your sentence.

Having a solicitor on your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Solicitors have the expertise to scrutinise the evidence thoroughly, identify any inconsistencies or procedural errors, and present a well-structured defence. They also understand the intricacies of sentencing guidelines and can negotiate with the prosecution to potentially secure a more lenient sentence.

When selecting a solicitor, it’s vital to consider their experience and expertise in dealing with cases involving sexual communication with a child. Look for a solicitor who has a solid track record of defending similar cases and is well-versed in the specific laws and regulations surrounding such offences. Client testimonials and professional recognition can also provide valuable insight into their competence and reliability.

During your first meeting with the solicitor, you can expect a comprehensive discussion of your case. The solicitor will review the facts, explain the charges and potential consequences, and outline possible defence strategies. They will also provide clarity on the legal process, including the stages of a trial and what to expect at each step. This initial consultation is an opportunity to ask questions and establish a clear understanding of how the solicitor plans to handle your case.

In summary, securing the assistance of a competent solicitor can be crucial in achieving a favourable outcome in cases of sexual communication with a child. By carefully selecting an experienced and skilled legal professional, you can ensure that your case is handled with the utmost expertise and diligence, potentially leading to a reduced sentence.

Where to get more help

Concerns about the sentence you might receive for sexual communication with a child can be overwhelming, and you undoubtedly have several pressing questions. For more help and guidance on sentencing and other matters related to this offence, get in touch with the team at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our friendly and non-judgemental staff are on hand to assist with your case, no matter your circumstances.

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