The age of consent in Washington state is 16. That means that sexual acts with a 16- or 17-year-old are legal except in certain situations where there is a power imbalance between the adult and the minor. Even if not necessarily a good idea, there are no laws in Washington state preventing dating a minor. However, even if the underlying sexual activity is legal, that doesn’t mean all conduct related to that activity is legal. Many laws still apply, one of which involves communicating with that minor.
In Washington, it is a crime to communicate with a minor, or someone you believe is a minor, for “immoral purposes.” This crime, found in RCW 9.68A.090, is known as Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes (“CMIP”). Despite the broad name, all prosecutions for this crime involve sexual communication or behavior. Knowing the ins and outs of the law is important to protect yourself.
What is Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes?
The vague term “immoral purposes” is not defined in the RCW. However, it typically relates to sexual acts. Washington courts have defined immoral purposes to be “promoting the exposure of children to and involvement in sexual misconduct.”
Sexual misconduct is not defined either. It can include criminal acts, like possessing child pornography. But it can also include legal acts, like sexual activity with a 17-year-old. There are no exceptions for minors above the age of consent in Washington.
“Communication” is also broad. It includes both conduct and speech. The communication can even be indirect, like leaving a letter at a minor’s desk. It simply needs to be directed at a minor; with the intent that they will see the communication. A minor doesn’t need to actually see or even understand the communication. Simply leaving notes at a house’s doorstep with the hopes that a minor finds them is enough to qualify as communication for an immoral purpose. Since a minor doesn’t need to see it, communicating with someone pretending to be a minor while believing they are a minor will also be CMIP.
In addition. electronic communication is treated much more harshly than non-electronic communication. Electronic communication is defined in RCW 9A.90.120, and includes text messages, wire transfers, pagers, and emails. Social media qualify, too.
Many people charged with CMIP are caught through internet sting operations conducted by police. If an officer in a sting operation communicates their fake age with the defendant, then they can be charged with CMIP even though the other party is a police officer.
Classification and Penalties
Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes as a crime falls into two categories. At base, CMIP is a gross misdemeanor. The penalties for a gross misdemeanor are up to one year in jail and a $5000 fine.
If the defendant communicated electronically, such as through texting or social media, or has a prior conviction for CMIP, then the crime is upgraded to a Class C felony. The penalties become up to five years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
Both classifications require registration as a sex offender. This can substantially affect your quality of life, such as your ability to get a job or approval for a loan.
Defenses to the Crime
A defendant is guilty of Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes if they knowingly communicated with a minor or someone they believed was a minor. That means that the other party not actually being a minor is not a defense if the defendant believed they were a minor. Merely not knowing that the other party was a minor, or believing they were older than they were, is no defense against CMIP and other age of consent-related crimes.
But if the accused sought legal documentation or proof that the minor was over 18, that is a complete defense to the age issue. If the minor provides false documentation, such as a fake driver’s license, and the accused was fooled by the false document, it is not the accused’s fault that they were fooled, and the defense is still good.
However, this is limited to documentation. Merely asking or guessing their age is not enough.
In sting cases, where no real minor is involved, the prosecution must prove that the defendant believed (wrongly) they were communicating with a minor. In these cases the police routinely send messages that they are young, they put in their messages content (and spelling errors) that one would expect from a young person, and they send photos of someone who is supposed to look young. Sometimes the accused can defend successfully by asserting that they didn’t believe the assertions of youth—they thought someone was pretending to be young (as indeed someone was).
What to do if you or someone you know is faced with an accusation?
A charge of CMIP can feel like it comes out of left field. Even if someone is in an otherwise legal relationship, they can still face serious charges. CMIP is broad, and the punishment for electronic communication is especially severe. With the consequences of a CMIP conviction including registry as a sex offender, a defendant needs an expert defense team to fight for them
If you or a loved one is facing an accusation of sexual misconduct, the Marshall Defense Firm is here to help. Our team of expert attorneys is well versed in defending people from CMIP and more. We can work together to provide the defense you deserve. Contact us at 206.826.1400 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.