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Church State Issues

Is justice system lenient on underage solicitation?

Sep 8, 2014

Arizona Republic

If you ask me this is a waste of our tax dollars and almost certainly unconstitutional entrapment.

The cops run ads in local newspapers or websites where the cops pretend to be prostitutes who are over 18 and are selling illegal sexual services. Of course they arrest anybody who responds to their ads offering illegal sex.

Even worse the cops then try to up the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, by claiming the imaginary prostitute is under 18, say 14 or 16 and if the john agrees they arrest him for a felony. This would be called "bait and switch" if the cops were crooked salesmen.

Last but not least the penalties are rather draconian. According to this article you can get up to 24 years in prison for soliciting sex from an under age prostitute.


Is justice system lenient on underage solicitation?

Megan Cassidy, The Republic | azcentral.com 11:42 p.m. MST September 7, 2014

A recent national study that points to judicial leniency for men who solicit sex from minors has been criticized by the Maricopa County Attorney's ­Office, whose prosecutors say the ­report reached flawed conclusions based on misguided assumptions about the application of sex-trafficking laws.

The "Demanding Justice," report, released by anti-sex-trafficking group Shared Hope International and Arizona State University, researched the criminal-justice outcomes of those suspected of soliciting sex from minors — or from police decoys posing as minors — a crime they say is responsible for fueling the sex-trafficking industry.

The crime of soliciting sex from a minor in Arizona carries a sentence of up to 24 years, but researchers say a Phoenix-area convict may more ­realistically expect an average of 4.7 years behind bars or a median term of 90 days.

The study examined typical amounts of time served, both by ­median and by average, in three other metro areas. It found that the median time served was 180 days in the D.C.-Baltimore area, 88.5 days in Seattle and 14 days in Portland, Ore. It found that the average time served in these metro areas was 1.3 years in D.C.-Baltimore, 154 days in Portland and 86 days in ­Seattle.

The study additionally criticized the criminal-justice system for failing to prosecute the defendants under sex-trafficking statutes.

"The research shows that when they're arrested ... at state level, that they're not facing the full force of the law," said Linda Smith, president and founder of Shared Hope International.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said this is a flawed ­conclusion.

In a statement released shortly after the study's debut, Montgomery criticized the small sample size that the study relied upon — 24 cases in Arizona — and stressed that 17 of these cases involved an undercover sting operation.

Researchers defended their methods of study. It has been only in the past three to four years that most states have enacted severe penalties for the those convicted of soliciting sex from minors, Smith said, and the study had limited subjects with which to work.

So researchers tapped into 134 cases from four sites whose agencies have devoted extensive resources to anti- ­demand law enforcement.

Montgomery said Arizona's sex-crime statutes, including recent changes to address human trafficking that were signed into law earlier this year, are designed to incarcerate ­dangerous and repeat offenders, especially predators of children.

"While the deterrent effect of sting operations utilizing undercover officers posing as 17- or 16-year-old minors cannot be overstated, punishments for first-time offenders caught in stings where they cannot actually have sex with a minor must be distinguished from offenders who can and/or do pay for sex with minors," he added.

The debate underscores fundamental differences between groups that would presumably share the same goal of prosecuting predators of ­children.

Shared Hope International advocates say men who solicit sex from undercover officers posing as minors are just as culpable as those who are ­successful in reaching an actual minor, but Maricopa County prosecuting ­attorneys believe that lack of a real ­victim does, and should, play a role in the criminal-justice process.

This scenario has been visible in some of the Valley's most highly publicized cases, many of which involved undercover officers and were pleaded down to lesser offenses.

Michael Gilliland, a former Sunflower Farmers Market CEO who was arrested in a 2011 sting, was sentenced to two 15-day terms after pleading guilty to misdemeanor pandering.

Jerry Marfe, a former high-school teacher who was caught in a December sting, was sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by 10 years of probation.

Marfe was one of 30 who were netted in the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office operation. All were initially charged with one or two counts of class-2 felony child prostitution, but of those sentenced to date, 18 ended up pleading to lesser counts of pandering, class-6 child prostitution or child/ ­vulnerable-adult abuse.

Three others pleaded to charges of class-2 or class-3 felony child prostitution.

Maricopa County Attorney's Office spokesman Jerry Cobb said higher ­felony convictions are often handed to repeat offenders.

Cobb said Shared Hope advocates fail to consider the nuances and realities of these types of cases in the realm of a criminal-justice system.

Defense attorneys and several suspected buyers in these cases have rebuked the "predator" designation because of the method used for arrests.

Police often rely on decoys to sweep the streets of would-be buyers. Undercover officers post ads on 18-and-over websites but later make it known that the "girl" is underage. Many defendants say they were seeking an of-age prostitute — a misdemeanor offense that turns into a serious felony when the girl is underage.

"Ninety-nine percent (of johns) — they're looking for an adult," said defense attorney Mark Nermyr in an earlier interview with The Arizona Republic. "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."

But Smith argued that there are signs that many of the defendants intend to have sex with teens.

"You're not allowed to run over somebody while under the influence of alcohol and say, 'Oops, I didn't know I drank too much,' " she said.

The study operates on the notion that tougher, enforced penalties will act as a deterrent for buyers. So researchers view the issue in terms of economics: shrink the demand, reduce the supply.

"If there's no market because the buyer stayed home with his own family, then the traffickers would not be out there preying on the children in our neighborhood," Smith said.

Smith said it is up to police, prosecutors and judges to enforce the laws to the fullest extent, but she said a culture of tolerance for buyers is pervasive and must be reversed.

Montgomery said the serious crimes of child prostitution and sex trafficking warrant an informed discussion to craft public-policy solutions.

"Unfortunately, this report missed a prime opportunity to provide members of the community with accurate and actionable information to facilitate this discussion," he said.