The character Fagin in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist took young boys under his wing and taught them to be pickpockets. He would then send the boys out into the streets of London to steal for him. Fagin didn't need to personally steal anything, but under modern statutes, Fagin could still be charged with inducing the boys to commit theft under what is known as solicitation.
Elements of Solicitation
The crime of solicitation is requesting, encouraging or demanding someone to engage in criminal conduct, with the intent to facilitate or contribute to the commission of that crime. Commonly, solicitation often is linked to prostitution with the crime being the request of someone to engage in sex for money.
Though state laws vary, to be guilty of solicitation, one must:
- request that someone else engage in criminal conduct; and
- have the intention to engage in criminal conduct with that person.
States vary as to whether the other person must receive the request, or whether the act of making the request (along with criminal intent) is enough to constitute solicitation. Some require that the other person actually receive the request. Most crimes can be paired with solicitation, such that a ringleader for a gang of thieves can be charged with soliciting the burglary without having to have participated in the actual burglary.
Under federal law, the government must prove that the defendant intended to engage another person to commit a felony crime of violence by commanding, inducing or persuading the person to commit a federal crime. Charging someone with solicitation allows the police to arrest someone for soliciting a murder for hire or an act of terrorism without the need for the murder or terrorism being carried out.
Subsequent Crime Need Not Be Committed
It's important to remember that the subsequent crime need not be committed. Someone can still be guilty of even if their request is not accepted, or the subsequent crime simply never happens. For example, if an undercover police officer receives a request to be a hit man for a murder, the alleged client can be convicted for soliciting even though the murder did not actually take place.
Defenses to Solicitation Charges
As in all criminal cases, a solicitation defendant can challenge that they did not commit the act, or that they did not have a criminal intent if they did commit the act. For example, someone charged with solicitation of prostitution might argue that he or she was not the person who did it, or that there was no offer or intent to compensate the other person for performing sex acts.
In some cases, a person is not liable for solicitation if they recant their intention to commit the subsequent crime, and notifies the other person that their request is off the table. Depending on what type of criminal behavior the person was soliciting, recanting might also require notifying the police in order to prevent subsequent criminal conduct from unfolding. Often, evidence in addition to any testimony from the person propositioned is required in order to convict someone of solicitation.
Punishment for Solicitation
Since one can solicit the commission of a variety of crimes, punishment for solicitation can vary widely, and vary by state as well. Solicitation charges escalate depending on the degree of felony which was allegedly solicited. For example, solicitation of murder is punished as a much higher degree of felony than solicitation of prostitution.
Facing Solicitation Charges? A Defense Attorney Can Help
As a felony, a conviction for solicitation can have huge consequences. However, there are a lot of gray areas and punishment for solicitation often comes down to the specific facts in your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help evaluate the evidence against you and establish the strongest defense possible.