PHOENIX -- A conviction and sentence for child prostitution doesn't necessarily require that an actual child be involved, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The justices rejected the arguments by Francis F. Kraps that he could not sentenced to both enhanced and consecutive prison terms because the "child' he had arranged to meet at a Prescott-area motel actually turned out to be an undercover police officer.
Justice Ann Scott Timmer, writing for the unanimous court, said Arizona law makes it a crime to engage in prostitution with a minor if the person knows -- or believes -- that the youth was 17 or younger. That, she said, makes it legally irrelevant that Kraps was actually conversing online with someone who was older.
Kraps was one of several people arrested in 2014 in a "sting' operation conducted by various Yavapai County law enforcement agencies.
Officers posed online as 16-year-old runaways willing to engage in sexual conduct for money. When they showed up at the hotel room and met the "child' they were arrested.
By law, those convicted of such offenses must be sentenced to at least seven years in prison and can be incarcerated for up to 21 years. There also is no possibility of probation.
But in a pretrial ruling, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Jennifer Campbell concluded the lack of an actual juvenile meant the mandatory sentence does not apply. Prosecutors appealed.
In Thursday's ruling, Timmer pointed out that the law specifically says a defendant cannot claim to be innocent of child prostitution simply because the child turns out to be an undercover police officer. She said the same logic, then, has to apply to the sentencing phase.
Still, Timmer conceded that perhaps the statute is not as clear as it should be.
She said the public policy of Arizona is to "give fair warning' of what will land someone behind bars.
"Given the importance of providing clear notice of the consequences for criminal conduct, we urge the legislature to be as explicit as possible for specifying criminal penalties,' Timmer wrote.
The ruling sends the case back to Yavapai County for trial.
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