Friday, August 10, 2012

Maine Prostitution Charges: Misdemeanor and Felony

VA license plate that reads Sir-Pimp
Photo credit: Taberandrew /Creative Commons
Prostitution has been in Maine news a lot lately. There are at least three high profile cases right now: a Zumba instructor who may have offered services that her sign did not advertise, a man alleged to have invested in that prostitution business, and another prostitution ring operator who now faces federal charges for extorting money from a customer who circumvented the business and transacted with the girls directly. The complaint in that case is a pretty great read. It all gets one thinking about what Maine's prostitution laws actually prohibit and, what penalties can be imposed.

Maine's Prostitution Laws:

The Law is codified in Title 17-A, Chapter 35 and the statutes there prohibit "Engaging in Prostitution," Engaging a Prostitute" "Promotion of Prostitution" and "Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution." Only aggravated promotion of prostitution can be charged as a felony; the remaining charges are misdemeanors. While they aren't the most serious crimes, the stigma of being charged may be the most significant sanction for those accused.

Engaging a Prostitute:

People are charged with this if the prosecution believes that they were a prostitute's customer. A person engages a prostitute by "providing or agreeing to provide, either to the person whose prostitution is sought or to a 3rd person, pecuniary benefit in return for a sexual act or sexual contact as those terms are defined in section 251." This is probably the charge that the Zumba clients will face.

Engaging in Prostitution:

If the prosecution believes that a person was working as a prostitute, they can be charged with engaging in prostitution. The law provides that Prostitution "means engaging in, or agreeing to engage in, or offering to engage in a sexual act or sexual contact, as those terms are defined in section 251, in return for a pecuniary benefit to be received by the person engaging in prostitution or a 3rd person."

Sentences for most Prostitution Offenses:

A first offense for either crime is a Class E misdemeanor. Such crimes are normally punishable by up to $1000 in fines and 6 months in jail. Interestingly, the law explicitly provides that only a fine can be imposed, no jail time is allowed for a first offense. If a defendant has a prior conviction in Maine or another State within the past 2 years, the charge becomes a class D misdemeanor punishable by $2000 in fines and up to 364 days in jail. It is interesting that the so called "look back" period is so short; other Maine Statutes (like Operating Under the Influence) punish second offenses more harshly if the defendant has a prior conviction within the past 10 years!

More Serious Charges, Promotion of Prostitution:

The more serious offense is promotion of prostitution and aggravated promotion of prostitution. One promotes prostitution by:
  1. Causing or aiding another to commit or engage in prostitution, other than as a patron;
  2. Publicly soliciting patrons for prostitution...;
  3. Providing persons for purposes of prostitution;
  4. Leasing or otherwise permitting a place controlled by the defendant, alone or in association with others, to be regularly used for prostitution;
  5. Owning, controlling, managing, supervising or otherwise operating, in association with others, a house of prostitution or a prostitution business;
  6. Transporting a person into or within the State with the intent that such other person engage in prostitution; or
  7. Accepting or receiving, or agreeing to accept or receive, a pecuniary benefit pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person, other than with a patron, whereby the person participates or the person is to participate in the proceeds of prostitution.
Violation is a Class D misdemeanor punishable by $2000 in fines and up to 364 days in jail. If the defendant "promotes prostitution by compelling a person to enter into, engage in, or remain in prostitution; or ... Promotes prostitution of a person less than 18 years old" they commit the crime of Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution. This is a class B felony punishable by $20,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.