Police Methodology in Conducting ‘Sting’ Allowed Maryland Dentist to Escape Solicitation Conviction

handcuffsSmall details can make big differences in the outcome of your criminal trial. In the case of one Maryland dentist accused of a sex crime, a very specific detail ultimately was the key to his obtaining a reversal of his conviction. Since the state had no evidence that the dentist interacted with a minor child or a police officer posing as a minor child, the dentist could not be convicted for sexual solicitation of a minor child, according to a recent Court of Special Appeals ruling.

The case involved a Hagerstown dentist who stood accused of several serious forms of misconduct. The dentist’s sex crime arrest was a result of a law enforcement “sting” operation. According to the state, the dentist thought he was arriving at an area motel to have sex with a 12-year-old girl. Inside the motel room, the dentist was greeted by law enforcement officers, who arrested him. The dentist never spoke to or saw the 12-year-old girl in person; indeed, she was completely fictional.

The trial court convicted the dentist on the sexual solicitation crime, and the dentist appealed. In his appeal, the dentist argued that he could not possibly be convicted of sexual solicitation of a minor child. The statute that defines that crime, he argued, required the presence either of an actual minor child or a law enforcement officer posing as a minor child. Since the sting in his case involved neither of those, the law didn’t permit a conviction on that crime, the dentist contended.

When you are standing trial for a crime, there are several forms of minute details that can make major differences in the outcome of your case. Whether an important piece of your proof gets into evidence at your trial (or an important piece of the state’s evidence gets excluded) may come down to small details. In a similar manner, whether or not the law allows you to be convicted of a particular crime may come down to fine nuances in terms of whether or not your actions fit the elements of the crime as laid out by the statute.

In Maryland, sexual solicitation of a minor child used to be a crime limited to cases in which an actual underage child was involved. In 2004, the legislature considered expanding this crime’s reach to cover anyone whom the accused person thought was an underage child. The legislature agreed to compromise language, amending the statute to include cases in which a minor child or a law enforcement officer posing as a minor child was involved.

The problem for the state in this case was that the statute was clear, and the facts of the dentist’s case clearly fell outside the statute’s boundaries. The state’s evidence appeared to show that the dentist thought he was going to the motel to meet a young girl. But, at the motel, there was neither an underage girl nor a police officer posing as an underage girl. The dentist had never spoken to, or seen in person, an underage girl or a police officer posing as an underage girl. Without one or the other of those two, the conviction could not stand.

The court also rejected the state’s argument that the dentist had successfully completed his attempt to solicit a minor child. This was irrelevant because the Maryland legislature never created a statute making attempted sexual solicitation of a minor child a crime in this state.

While the charges that you or a loved one are facing may be radically different from those faced by this dentist, the dentist’s case nevertheless shows how small details, when properly argued by capable counsel, can make big differences. Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been defending people accused of crimes in this state for many years. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Frederick County Man Entitled to New Sentence After Being Charged With Excessive Number of Counts of Sex Crime, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 21, 2016

Baltimore Man’s Conviction Overturned Due to Trial Court’s Refusal to Allow Him to Confront Interpreters, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 8, 2016

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