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. That class of crime is normally punishable by up to $1000 in fines and 6 months in jail. Until 2013, the law explicitly provided that only a fine could be imposed and no jail time was allowed for a first offense of engaging in prostitution or engaging a prostitute conviction. In the wake of the Zumba case, the law was changed and now first offense engaging a prostitute can be punished by jail time. First offense engaging in prostitution is still punishable by a maximum $1000 fine and no jail.

If a defendant has a prior conviction for these offenses in Maine or another State within the past 10 years, the crimes becomes class D misdemeanors punishable by $2000 in fines and up to 364 days in jail. Until the 2013 law change, the "look back" period was only 2 years meaning only a prior conviction within the past 2 years would count to increase a new charge. Now, the look back has been increased to line up with other other Maine statutes (like Operating Under the Influence) which 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.