Today the Court of Appeals for the Ninth District of Texas in Beaumont reversed State District Judge Kelly Case’s order dismissing an online-solicitation-of-a-child indictment on grounds that the statute was unconstitutionally overbroad. In an opinion authored by Chief Justice Steve McKeithen, the appellate court ruled that the statute is constitutional, and it remanded the case to Judge Case’s district court for further proceedings on the indictment.
On November 18, 2014, a Montgomery County grand jury charged Daniel Paquette, 34, of Kingwood, Texas, with soliciting an individual he believed to be a child to meet for sexual purposes. Paquette filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the statute under which he was charged violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment. On July 30, 2015, Judge Case agreed with Paquette and dismissed his indictment.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon appealed Judge Case’s order, and today the Court of Appeals in Beaumont ruled that the statute prohibits improper conduct, rather than protected speech, and is not unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
In 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that a different section of the online solicitation statute was unconstitutional. Since that date, there have been numerous challenges to the section of the statute that prohibits adults from soliciting children to meet for sex, but it does not appear that any courts—other than Judge Case’s district court—have sustained those challenges. And the 2015 Legislature revised the portion previously held to be unconstitutional by the Court of Criminal Appeals, in order to overcome constitutional objections to its scope.
This was the seventh time that Judge Case’s rulings have been reversed by the appellate courts after being appealed by Ligon since Judge Case took the bench in January of 2013. In April of 2015, the Court of Appeals reinstated an indictment for online solicitation of a child which Judge Case had dismissed on technical grounds. And in October of 2015, the Court of Appeals reversed Judge Case’s order dismissing an indictment for online solicitation of a child because a prosecutor was allegedly late for court. Ligon also has successfully sought mandamus relief from Judge Case’s unauthorized orders on five occasions, and one of those mandamus actions challenged Judge Case’s discovery order in an online-solicitation-of-a-child case.
Brett Ligon, District Attorney: “I am gratified that the Beaumont Court of Appeals upheld the statute,” Ligon said today. “The protection of our children from sexual predators is a paramount concern of this office, and this decision allows our Internet Crimes Against Children investigators to continue their highly successful efforts to identify and punish those predators. Our message is this: don’t mess with our kids.”