Don't these police officers have any REAL criminals to hunt down???
You know criminals that hurt people, like robbers and rapists. Not people involved with the victimless crime of prostitution!!!
Sadly these plea bargains are just a way for the government to flush our right to a jury trials down the toilet:
The minimum sentence for a conviction of
class-2 felony child prostitution is 7 years
in prison — a term defense attorneys say is
severe enough to scare nearly all suspects into a plea agreement.
Charges, 'predator' tag protested in Arizona sting arrests
Megan Cassidy, The Republic | azcentral.com 9:25 p.m. MST August 7, 2014
Of the dozens of Valley escorts promoting their services online, the ad Jason Lee landed on earlier this year was brief, to the point and indicated that its poster was new to the game.
"Hi! I'm so excited to meet you so what are you waiting for!?! I promise you a great time," it read. "I'm YOUNG and EXCITING and I'm always ready to try NEW things. I love what I do, and making sure your happy is what I love doing!!!"(sic)
Lee, a newlywed and U.S. Army combat veteran, performed a cursory risk-assessment and determined these qualities would provide the safest route.
To be sure, Lee wanted a prostitute that night. But he, along with a growing number of fellow defendants churned through Maricopa County Superior Court, maintains that there is a stark difference between intending to buy sex and intending to buy sex from a minor.
Although the website's disclaimer ostensibly prohibits minors from perusing or posting in its adult services section, few safeguards guarantee this rule is enforced. After a few text messages with his chosen escort, Lee was told that she was actually a 16-year-old runaway.
The ensuing scenario is familiar to many of the men whose sullen mugshots are posted online and featured in media reports.
The woman Lee ultimately met was neither a seasoned prostitute nor a 16-year-old runaway, but an undercover police officer. He, along with the others arrested in April during the Chandler Police sting operation, was charged with child prostitution — a class 2 felony.
In recent years, Phoenix-area officers have used similar tactics to net dozens of suspects who police say were ready and willing to exploit young girls. The effort is part of a broader agenda to abolish sex trafficking, which many Arizona politicians and advocates have likened to modern-day slavery.
"John"round-ups targeting those seeking minors or adults for sexual acts have become an increasingly visible staple in law-enforcement. The aim is to cut the demand for a service often coupled with violence, drugs and poverty.
Valley police led the nation in this week's "National Day of Johns Arrests," accounting for 150 arrests of a national law-enforcement coalition's 500. Officials say several of the men were soliciting juveniles and that 91 of the local arrests stemmed from ads on "Backpage.com," the site where Lee's troubles began.
But many child-prostitution defendants say police's use of the adults-only section of the site is bait-and-switch technique that makes felons of those guilty of misdemeanor intent and no actual crime. Media attention is typically quick to follow the arrests, unjustly branding average "johns" as pedophiles, their attorneys say.
"Clearly, from a morality standpoint, they're universes apart in my opinion," Lee said in a recent Arizona Republic interview.
Lee admits he planned to pay for sex with an adult and said several factors led him to believe the woman at the other end of the text message was 18 or over, despite her claims.
How else would she book a hotel room? If she was really a runaway, wouldn't her parents track her down by her cell phone or credit card?
The decoy asked him if he would be willing to pay more because she was younger than the ad stated. Lee attempted to use marijuana as a bargaining chip rather in lieu of upping the price, according to the police report. Lee believed the woman was just trying lie//lying// about her age to squeeze more money from him, he said.
Further, Lee's attorney Mark Nermyr noted, the age of consent in Maryland, where Lee was visiting from, is 16.
Nermyr said police are operating on questionable moral grounds, and missing their mark if the intent is to incarcerate child predators.
"Ninety-nine percent (of johns) — they're looking for an adult," he said. "At some point, the officer sneaks age in the conversation, and that changes it from a misdemeanor — 10 days in jail — to a felony. It's not doing anything to combat child prostitution."
Lt. Michael Pooley with the Tempe Police Department said juvenile prostitution is an underground market that police witness on a regular basis. The buyers run the demographic gamut, Pooley said, and the stings are a way to shake the exploiters out of the rest of society.
"If it wasn't such a big problem, we wouldn't do these," he said. "We do believe that they are targeting underage girls on Backpage."
Pooley said police will include code words in their ads that are believed to be searched by those who aim for the young. Defense attorneys say the opposite is true — their clients don't know to weed out these words.
Few suspects, even those with a reasonably strong defense, opt to fight the charges at trial.
The facts in many of the cases would bode in a suspect's favor if they ever made it to a jury, said Nick Moutos, a defense attorney with Castillo Law in Phoenix who has worked on several of these cases.
One of Moutos' clients even asked for the decoy's identification, but police were able to change the subject, he said.
In one of the more publicized cases, former Sunflower Markets CEO Michael C. Gilliland met with two decoys, one of whom claimed in the ad to be 18. When he arrived at the hotel room, however, he was directed to another woman, who claimed to be 17.
But the women standing in front of him were actually 31 and 33, and this fact was never presented to the grand jury, Gilliland's defense attorney Jean-Jacques Cabou noted in a May 2011 motion .
"It seems clear…that the fact that (the officer) was 31 years old, not 17, was not only relevant to the inquiry, but also of such value as to possibly deter the grand jury from a finding of probable cause," Cabou wrote in the motion.
In the end though, Gilliland opted to plead out to a charge of attempted pandering and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and one year of probation.
Such bargains are typical for similar arrests.
Of the 30 people arrested in a December teen prostitution sting of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, three have been convicted of a class 2 or class 3 child-prostitution felony, according to court records. Nineteen others pleaded guilty to charges including pandering or class-6 felony child prostitution. The deals usually carry a few weeks or months of jail time.
The minimum sentence for a conviction of class-2 felony child prostitution is 7 years in prison — a term defense attorneys say is severe enough to scare nearly all suspects into a plea agreement.
A new tweak in the existing law promises to further silence its challengers.
One of the key elements of the sweeping anti-trafficking legislation signed in April by Gov. Jan Brewer closed a loophole for suspects arrested in the stings.
The child prostitution statute now holds defendants culpable if they "should have known" that someone ages 15 to 17 years old was underage. Prior to the added language, prosecutors had to prove that a suspect knowingly engaged in prostitution with a minor if she was older than 14.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said that cementing the law would prevent prosecutors from being forced to offer lenient plea agreements
Jon Eliason, chief of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office's major crimes division, said the technique is only one of several tools that law enforcement uses to go after child predators.
Intent does matter to prosecutors, he said, and is one of the factors reflected in suspects' plea deals.
"Each case is going to rise and fall on the facts," Eliason said. "If you get someone who has prior convictions and we think there's intent, that case will be handled very differently than someone with their first-time offense."
And, he said, they could have easily walked away.
"No one's making these guys pick up the phone and call the ad," he said. "No one's making them stay. They could always say, 'No, I wanted someone who was 18.' They're the ones saying yes."
For example, while the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office arrested 30 men in a teen-prostitution sting in December, officials said that dozens more potential johns simply hung up the phone when they discovered the "girl" was underage.
On Monday, with his wife Megan by his side, Lee accepted a plea deal.
He is guilty of attempted child abuse with sexual motivation, a class-6 felony, and prosecutors will ask for a 60-day jail term at the upcoming sentencing. Once he completes this and his probation, Lee can petition to get the conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.
But the damage has already been done, he said. Lee, now a military contractor, lost his top-secret clearance as a result of the charge and may lose his secret clearance depending on the length of his probation.
None of this would have happened, he said, if he was charged with the misdemeanor crime he intended to commit.
"If I don't get a short probation, I'm just dead in the water," he said. "I honestly think it's a career ender."