On March 16, 2020 the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided a case regarding Minnesota Statute section 609.324, subdivision 2(2) (2018). A person violates this statue only if, while in a public place, the person hires, offers to hire, or agrees to hire another person to engage in sexual penetration or sexual contact.
The case1 was brought to the Minnesota Court of Appeals after the district court dismissed the charges and the State (aka the prosecution) appealed. The defense argued that the statute requires a showing that the solicitation for prostitution occur in a public place. In this specific case, the argument was that the State failed to show that the solicitation occurred in a public place, and therefore, the charges lacked probable cause because the State did not establish that the solicitation occurred in a public place.
The facts of the case show that, on four different occasions, individuals responded to a police sting in Willmar. The officers in charge of the sting created a fictional “prostitute” and made online advertisements for her which including the fictional prostitute’s phone number. Four different individuals responded to these sting advertisements and offered the fictional prostitute money in exchange for sexual contact. These offers were done over the phone via text messaging. The fictional prostitute then instructed each of the individuals to meet her at a local hotel. Upon arriving at the hotel, each individual was arrested either in the parking lot of the hotel or in the hotel itself. Each individual was charged with soliciting prostitution under Minn. Stat. § 609.324, subd. 2(2).
Here, the solicitation activity occurred entirely on-line and via text messages. The “acts of solicitation” were completed when the individuals sent their text messages offering to pay the fictional prostitute for sexual contact. The State in this case did not establish that these individuals were in a “public place” when this solicitation occurred. Thus, the court ruled that these criminal charges were not supported by probable cause. Since the words in the statute explicitly state that the solicitation must occur in a public place, the statute requires dismissal of the charges if the State cannot establish that the solicitation occurred in a public place.
The court explained that with their decision, they do not intend to minimize the seriousness of human trafficking, but nevertheless, they are obligated to follow the law.
The Legislature could redraft the language of the statute but has not done so yet.
If you are charged with solicitation under this statute or any other statute, it is a good idea to hire an attorney review your charges.
1 State v. Suspitsyn, Nos. A19-1112, A19-1113, A19-1115, A19-1116, 2020 Minn. App. LEXIS 66 (Ct. App. Mar. 16, 2020); Kandiyohi County District Court File No. 34-CR-19-216