Prostitution and Minnesota Criminal Law
Prostitution has been called the oldest profession. It has been around a long time. In the United States and around the world, many governments have adopted laws that either regulate it or criminalize it and drive it into an unregulated underground economy. It is arguable that most social ills associated with prostitution are really the effect of its criminalization and criminal law enforcement. (Compare with jurisdiction where it is not a crime.)
In Minnesota, prostitution is generally treated as a crime through numerous Minnesota criminal statutes. Though it is possible to be prosecuted federally for a prostitution-related crime, this page will be limited to a review of related Minnesota state laws.
Common Prostitution Charges
Though these types of cases can be charged as Felonies, Gross Misdemeanors, or Misdemeanors, the most common prostitution charges are the misdemeanor cases. Here are some examples of the more common charges:
Solicitation of Prostitution in a Public Place. Minnesota Statutes Section 609.324, subd. 2. This is defined as a Gross Misdemeanor, presumably due to the “public place” element. We have seen overreaching by police and prosecutors where they claim private places, such as apartments or hotel rooms to be “public.”
Engaging in or Agreeing to Engage in Prostitution (18 or older). Minnesota Statutes Section 609.324, subd. 3. This is defined as a Misdemeanor, unless enhanced to a Gross Misdemeanor for a similar prior conviction within two years.
Loitering with Intent to Participate in Prostitution (Public Place). Minnesota Statutes Section 609.3243. This Misdemeanor crime statute falls into the highly suspect category of “Loitering” crimes. These have historically had constitutional law issues; and, have been used to unfairly target disfavored individuals and classes. A “loitering with intent” crime tends to be based upon highly subjective interpretations of others behavior (prone to bias), a series of speculations, to arrive at the other person’s “intent” without any real prohibited act, or act at all.
Though less common than Gross Misdemeanor and Misdemeanor cases, some prostitution-related crimes can be charged as a Felony. Most felony prostitution charges are related to an allegation of an underage person.
Solicitation, Inducement or Promotion of Prostitution (Any Age). Minnesota Statutes Section 609.322. Otherwise known as pimping. This is a Felony crime for those other than the prostitutes and patrons themselves.
Engaging in, Hiring, or Agreeing to Hire a Minor (Under 18) to Engage in Prostitution. Minnesota Statutes Section 609.324, subd. 1. This Felony targets patrons who hires those under 18 years old.
Age. A person’s age alone can change the level of the criminal charge under the statutory scheme. There are numerous permutations relating to age in the statutes. The most important, however, is probably the difference between age 18, and under 18. Most of these criminal statutes define these crimes as a felony if the prostitute is under age 18.
Role. Promoters are treated more harshly than Customers, who in turn are treated more harshly than Prostitutes.
Location. The same allegations are treated more severely when in a “Public Place.” Housing, as well as “Place of Prostitution” can be factors. Use of a motor vehicle, such as acts of prostitution in a car, can result in a drivers license record notation, as well as vehicle forfeiture under Minnesota Statutes Section 609.5312, subd. 3. There is a charge enhancement provision for school or park zones.
Law Enforcement Methods
In recent years much of the activity in this area has migrated from the streets to the internet. The police officers pursuing these cases have largely followed. Police stings originating on websites like backpage.com are now the norm.
One thing that has not changed is that most prostitution busts are sting operations or traps. Once a suspect is apprehended by police, typically police will seek to get the person to make a statement. No matter what excuses the person makes, the statement will be valuable to police and prosecutors. The targeted suspect who remains completely silent unless their lawyer is present, will be less likely to be charged or convicted.
The Entrapment Defense
The defense of entrapment generally is an affirmative defense where the accused provides evidence in court that she or he (1) was not predisposed to commit the crime; and (2) that the crime would not have occurred but for the actions of police, for example police coercion. Most arrests in this area today are the product of a police sting or trap, but not every police sting or trap operation meets the criteria of a legal “entrapment” defense. It is possible, however, to have an entrapment defense if police go too far. The courts allow police to use a certain amount of deception in their work. But sometimes they cross the line, and accuse people who have not committed any crime.
Sentencing Entrapment may apply in a situation where the defendant was guilty of some prostitution crime, but police manipulated and controlled the defendant to the extent that the enhancement element making it a more serious crime cannot fairly be attributed to the free will choice of the defendant. An example here could be a target of a police backpages sting who goes to a place expecting an 18 or older person, but along the way is subject to a bait and switch later told the person us under 18 — and at that point goes ahead anyway. Alternatively, this could give rise to a defense to an aggravated felony prostitution charge, though not being a defense to a lesser-included misdemeanor crime.
How a Criminal Lawyer Can Help
A criminal defense lawyer can help a person charged with one of these crimes to identify a goal for a desired outcome, and then map out a path with the best chance of achieving that outcome goal. All of the knowledge and skills applicable to criminal law generally will make the difference here. Experience doesn’t hurt, either.