When it comes to sexual offenses, Arizona has some of the harshest prison sentences in the country. Recently law enforcement has been investigating, enforcing, and prosecuting crimes such as prostitution, child prostitution, and luring minors for sexual exploitation with greater frequency and ferocity. One of the reasons for the increased enforcement is the increased funding and attention on crimes considered to be tied to “sex trafficking.” Police agencies throughout the State have developed task forces and designated police officers to work undercover stings which have resulted in the arrest and conviction of hundreds of individuals. Earlier this year, I wrote about the increased attention by law enforcement and prosecutors on prostitution cases (http://www.azlegal.com/2015/01/23/police-wont-take-a-time-out-during-super-bowl-soliciting-prostitution-and-prostitution-arrests-likely-to-skyrocket-in-arizona-this-month-soliciting-prostition-attorney/).
While prostitution involving adults carries significant legal and personal consequences, child prostitution carries more serious consequences, including mandatory prison sentences and the potential to register as a sex offender. Some prosecutor offices, such as the Pinal County Attorney’s Office, have policies which require an individual charged with child prostitution to plead to prison sentences.
The criminal justice community has observed an increased use of a particular sting used by law enforcement which has resulted in hundreds of arrests and charges related to child prostitution where no actual minors are involved or ever existed. These stings involve officers posting ads on online forums such as Craigslist and Backpage and posing as escorts, massage therapists, and other adult oriented businesses known to act as fronts for prostitution. They also post sexually explicit ads hoping to entice an individual to respond.
This is an example of a typical scenario:
John is surfing the web. He eventually finds Backpage or Craigslist and comes across an ad for a 19 year-old escort. The ad has pictures of a girl that appears to be a 19 or 20 year old woman. The pictures are clearly meant to be provocative, but the person in the photos is fully clothed. John decides to send a text or an e-mail in response to the ad. John and the girl from the ad exchange a number of messages and eventually agree to meet. At some point after agreeing to meet, the girl in the ad sends another message stating that she is 16 years old. She does not provide any more details and does not ask for any more money. John doesn’t believe this because the photos he saw clearly depict an adult. He meets the girl in the ad and sees that she is clearly an adult and very likely older than 19 years old. In fact, the girl he met and had been texting is a 23 year old police officer working under cover. John is arrested and is charged not only with prostitution, but child prostitution and is now facing mandatory prison even though an actual minor never existed.
There are a number of problems with this type of sting operation. First, John never really intended to be involved with a minor and never even believed that the person he was speaking with was a minor. This makes the charge of child prostitution unjust and inappropriate. Second, the police conduct may amount to entrapment.
In Arizona according to ARS 13:206 entrapment exists when:
- The idea of committing the offense started with law enforcement officers or their agents rather than with the person.
- The law enforcement officers or their agents urged and induced the person to commit the offense.
- The person was not predisposed to commit the type of offense charged before the law enforcement officers or their agents urged and induced the person to commit the offense.
In addition to these issues, there are other defenses available which can help an individual who finds themselves charged with a serious crime such as child prostitution. It’s important to hire an attorney who is familiar with the law, the law enforcement techniques, and the different facts that can help protect and defend an individual from an unjust and inappropriate prosecution.
The Arizona Court of Appeals has upheld the law that requires a mandatory prison sentence when a law enforcement officer pretends to be a minor. Given this, law enforcement will continue to use stings to arrest and charge individuals with child prostitution and these individuals will continue to face lengthy prison sentences even though no actual minors are targeted or involved.
If you or someone you know has been charged with child prostitution or any other sexual offense, it’s critical to get help from an experienced sex offense attorney who has the training and knowledge to help protect your rights.