During 2019’s Final Four Weekend in Minneapolis, forty-seven people, most of them locals, were caught in an online child sex trafficking sting operation.
Over thirty state and local law enforcement agencies worked together in this effort. Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Drew Evans said that agents went onto several social media and internet sites, posing as girls younger than 15. They arranged to meet sex solicitors at hotels or apartments, where authorities arrested the men. In addition to making the forty-seven solicitation arrests, investigators arrested eleven people for promoting prostitution and freed twenty-eight women, including one minor, from sex trafficking.
“It really illustrates that when law enforcement works collaboratively we can work to drive down this type of crime, and that Minnesota does not tolerate trafficking in the state,” he said.
In a way, Section 609.322 of the Minnesota Statutes is a sex crime in name only. This offense is more like exploitation of a minor. So, it is generally easier
Legally, there is no difference between solicitation and engagement of child prostitution. They are both felonies punishable by 20 years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine. Pragmatically, there is a difference. In the above-mentioned sting, most of the traffickers went directly to jail and most of the solicitors were booked and released.
There may also be a difference during the sentencing and post-sentencing phases.
A reasonable belief as to the prostitute’s age is not a defense to the crime itself. However, it may be relevant for sentencing purposes. In some cases, it could mean the difference between probation and prison.
Additionally, it may be easier to remove one’s name from the sex offender registration list. That’s especially true if the solicitation defendant goes beyond the minimum rehabilitation requirements and has no criminal history.
Many of the above cases involved cell phone searches. The methods that officers use to obtain text messages, and the messages themselves, may both be issues during pretrial evidentiary hearings.
Most people keep their lives on their smartphones. Accordingly, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court recently held that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any content past the home screen. That’s especially true if the smartphone is password or fingerprint-protected.
Because of Riley v. California, officers must have search warrants before they can access anything beyond the home screen. That includes emails, photographs, text messages, and everything else. If owners refuse to consent to warrantless searches, officers may
Message content may be an issue for St. Paul criminal defense lawyers as well. In these situations, most sex solicitors use vague phrases and code words. Officers usually testify as “experts” to decode these phrases. That expert knowledge must be based on something other than hearsay picked up at the stationhouse or a few months of experience.
Online and social media sting operations are very common in minor sex trafficking cases. Contrary to popular myth, officers need not identify themselves if the sex solicitor asks “are you a cop.” However, if they lie, their credibility is suspect, making it easier for a St. Paul criminal defense lawyer to establish the entrapment defense.
This defense is difficult to establish. If the officer induced the defendant to commit the crime, as is often the case, the defendant must prove that s/he had no predisposition to commit it.
If a defendant exchanges explicit messages with the “minor,” who is actually a police officer, it’s almost impossible to prove this element. If the defendant is in a sex chat room, it’s difficult, but not impossible, to prove entrapment. If an officer sends an email to a defendant, that’s probably entrapment.
Child sex trafficking charges are extremely complex. For a free consultation with an experienced St. Paul criminal defense lawyer, contact Capitol City Law Group, LLC. Go online now, call us at (651) 998-7634, or stop by 287 6th St E, Suite 20, St Paul, MN 55101.