Craigslist Sex Sting Prosecution Rejected as “Outrageous Misconduct”–Washington v. Solomon

This case’s setup resembles dozens or hundreds of similar cases I’ve read. In 2014, a law enforcement officer (in this case, Skagit County Sheriff’s detective Theresa Luvera) posted a sex solicitation on Craigslist’s casual encounters. As we’ve discussed before, Craigslist’s rules required all participants to be 18+. something that has undermined sex stings in the past (if you read that post, the parallels to this post will be obvious).

The defendant responded to the solicitation. After some online exchanges between the detective and the defendant, the detective claimed she is underage (“almost 15 but waaay advanced”). Even further into the exchanges, the detective brought up money-for-sex. At every step along the way but the end, the defendant seemingly made it clear he was seeking free sex with a female adult. Eventually the defendant shows up at the designated rendezvous point with the requested items. He “was charged with one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes, one count of commercial sex abuse of a minor, and one count of attempted rape of a child in the third degree.”

The trial court dismissed the prosecution because the “State engaged in outrageous misconduct in violation of a defendant’s due process right to fundamental fairness.” The appellate court recaps:

The trial court thus found that Solomon’s reluctance to commit the crime was manifested by his repeated—seven times—attempts to discontinue the conversation. The trial court further found that the State had engaged in persistent solicitation of Solomon, given that the detective continued to solicit him each of the seven times that he sought to withdraw and, in addition, sent the majority of the over 200 messages exchanged between the two parties.

The trial court gave an example of how aggressively the detective pursued the defendant (apologies for the language):

At 3:17 on Wednesday, September 17th, the detective says, “OMG U R so f’ing hung baby!!! WTF … I’m so amped up after seeing this. I have wait for my sister to leave and I am gonna video tape me finger banging me to ur pic! Can’t u cum and see me now!!!”

Yeah, that’s repugnant. I don’t care how you cut that pie. You can be a seasoned old sailor or whatever, but that is repugnant. That’s a detective letting line out very fast on a free spool trying to get Mr. Solomon back in the game. And there is no other way to – there is no other way to describe it. It’s outrageous. That is repugnant. It’s egregious.

The appellate court affirmed:

Given the court’s finding that law enforcement had initiated and controlled the criminal activity, persistently solicited Solomon to commit the crimes so initiated, and acted in a manner (through the use of language and otherwise) repugnant to the trial judge’s view of the community’s sense of justice, the trial court’s determination was tenable.

This ruling makes me wonder how many other convictions were obtained with similar law enforcement (over)zealousness. I’ve read some cases where the defendant clearly wanted to break the law, but often the cases I read involve a lengthy multi-round interaction over several days (or even months) where the law enforcement official has to cajole or insult the defendant to get past some hesitation. In each of those cases, I start to doubt the defendant’s organic propensity to commit a crime.

Now that Craigslist has shut down its personals section, I’m not clear where law enforcement will conduct its online sex stings. Wherever that effort rematerializes, I hope that law enforcement absorbs the lessons of prosecution failures like this one.

Case citation: State v. Solomon2018 WL 2418487 (Wash. App. Ct. May 28, 2018)h