Appeals court: Speech integral to criminal conduct not protected by First Amendment
ST. PAUL -- Prostitution laws do not violate the First Amendment, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held Monday. The court ruled after a Brooklyn Park man argued his online solicitation of women for sexual acts was free speech. Antonio Washington-Da...
ST. PAUL -- Prostitution laws do not violate the First Amendment, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held Monday.
The court ruled after a Brooklyn Park man argued his online solicitation of women for sexual acts was free speech.
Antonio Washington-Davis was a member of a family of pimps convicted of trafficking teens for sex.
The operation unraveled after the grandmother of a 15-year-old emailed St. Paul police in October 2012 saying the teen had been the target of a group of sex traffickers operating out of a house in the 600 block of East Hawthorne Avenue.
Washington-Davis posted advertisements for prostitutes on the Internet, selected women for particular “out-calls” and then drove them to out-call locations as part of a family-operated prostitution scheme that began in 2008, according to the court. Four of his relatives were convicted of similar offenses.
In August 2013, Washington-Davis was charged with seven prostitution-related offenses that occurred between September 2010 and July 2012. The charges included soliciting a minor for prostitution, aiding and abetting the promotion and solicitation of an individual for prostitution and conspiracy to commit second-degree sex trafficking.
Washington-Davis contended he was a victim, guilty of being born into the wrong family.
“Some nights I cry myself to sleep because I’m around a bunch of murderers,” Washington-Davis said at trial.
His defense also challenged the state’s definition of solicitation, asserting his online posts should be judged as speech rather than conduct.
But the appellate court held that “the speech proscribed by the statute is outside the ambit of the First Amendment’s protection because it is speech integral to criminal conduct.”
The court ordered that Washington-Davis be resentenced on a conspiracy count, which could reduce his 36-year sentence, imposed in December 2013. At the time, it was the longest sentence imposed on a sex-trafficking defendant in state history, according to the Ramsey County attorney’s office. The record was later claimed by Washington-Davis’ brother, Otis Deno Washington, who was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison for his involvement in the family’s illegal enterprise.