An East Texas man who served two years in prison after pleading guilty under a law that had been invalidated is attempting to collect damages from a fund established to compensate wrongfully convicted inmates.
State officials say the fund, which provides $80,000 for every year a person wrongfully spent behind bars, is reserved for people who were found to be innocent of their crimes, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
They denied access to the money to Colton Lester, who pleaded guilty in 2014 at the age of 17 to attempted online solicitation of a minor. Although the appeals court struck down the law in 2013, Lester’s lawyers and prosecutors were unaware of the fact. State officials say the guilty plea means Lester can’t collect from the fund, the newspaper reported.
Lester’s new lawyer will argue to the Texas Supreme Court on Jan. 29 that since the law was declared unconstitutional, it’s as if it never existed.
The 2005 online solicitation law, which made it illegal for adults to send sexually explicit messages electronically to minors “to arouse or gratify sexual desire,” was tossed out by the appeals court because it wasn’t narrowly written and could prohibit a wide variety of speech protected by the U.S. Constitution, the Statesman noted.
The Texas Legislature passed a new law with tighter language shortly after the appeals court ruling, but it doesn’t affect offenses committed before Sept. 1, 2015, including Lester’s case.
He admitted, while a junior at Livingston High School, to sending a text containing an explicit sexual proposition to a freshman girl he knew to be 14 or younger.