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Name: People v. Fromuth
Case #: H040926
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Opinion Date: 08/03/2016
Summary

Trial court was not required to instruct that the “motivated by” language in the online predator statute required a finding that an abnormal sexual interest in children was a substantial factor in the crime. Defendant answered an advertisement on Craigslist, allegedly posted by “Maria,” for a sexual encounter. He believed that “Maria” was a 15-year-old female. When defendant arrived at the arranged meeting place, he was arrested. He was convicted of contacting a minor with the intent to commit a sexual offense (Pen. Code, § 288.4, subd. (b)). On appeal he argued the jury should have been instructed that the “motivated by” element in the statute requires proof that the defendant’s motivation was a substantial factor in the commission of the crime. Held: Affirmed. The online predator crime applies to “every person who, motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children,” arranges a meeting with a minor for lewd and lascivious purposes and who goes to the arranged meeting place. The “motivated by” element of the offense requires proof that the abnormal sexual interest in children was a substantial factor in the commission of the crime. Similar wording in other statutes has been construed to require that a prohibited motivation be a substantial factor in the offense (In re M.S. (1995) 10 Cal.4th 698 [evaluating two hate crime statutes, finding they require proof the prohibited bias be “a cause in fact” of the crime]). The legislative history of section 288.4 shows it was intended to target those whose abnormal sexual interest in children caused their illegal act. It is true that CALCRIM No. 1126, does not require a finding that an abnormal sexual interest in children was more than a trivial or remote factor in causing the crime. However, when a statutory term has no technical meaning peculiar to the law, instruction as to the term’s meaning is not required. Here, the jury would reasonably understand the “motivated by” language required a finding that defendant’s abnormal sexual interest in children be a cause of his conduct.

There was substantial evidence supporting the jury’s finding that defendant’s act was motivated by an abnormal sexual interest in children. Defendant claimed there was no evidence he had ever previously exhibited a sexual interest in children and the evidence was insufficient to prove his acts in this case were motivated by such an interest. “However, defendant’s conduct in this case was sufficient to support a reasonable inference that his sexual interest in ‘Maria’ was demonstrative of his general sexual interest in children.” During a protracted Internet exchange with “Maria,” defendant discussed explicit sexual matters and agreed to meet with her. Defendant knew “Maria” was 15 years old and nonetheless went to their prearranged meeting intending to have sex with her.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/H040926.PDF