Prostitution Charges in Maine: Definitions, Sentences and Defenses

Maine’s Prostitution Law is found in title 17-A, Chapter 35. The statutes there prohibit “Engaging in Prostitution,” Engaging a Prostitute” “Promotion of Prostitution” and “Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution.” Only aggravated promotion of prostitution can be charged as a felony; the remaining charges are misdemeanors. [UPDATE: See below. Promotion of prostitution has been subsumed by Maine’s Sex Trafficking Law]. While the penalties are often minor, the stigma of being charged is often the most significant sanction.

Engaging a Prostitute:

People are charged with this offense if the prosecution believes that they were a prostitute’s customer. A person engages a prostitute by “providing or agreeing to provide, either to the person whose prostitution is sought or to a 3rd person, pecuniary benefit in return for a sexual act or sexual contact as those terms are defined in section 251.” This is probably the charge brought against so called “johns”: people alleged to be a prostitue’s customer. The way the law is written, just agreeing to pay for sex can constitute a crime.

Engaging in Prostitution:

If a person is alleged to be working as a prostitute, they can be charged with engaging in prostitution. Prostitution is defined as “engaging in, or agreeing to engage in, or offering to engage in a sexual act or sexual contact, as those terms are defined in section 251, in return for a pecuniary benefit to be received by the person engaging in prostitution or a 3rd person.” Again, just making an offer to exchange sex for money can be a crime; there does not need to be any proof that the parties had sex.

Sentences for Most Prostitution Offenses:

Both of these crimes are Class E misdemeanors. Class E crimes are normally punishable by up to $1000 in fines and 6 months in jail. Interestingly, the law explicitly provides that for a first offense, only a fine of up to $1000 can be imposed. If a defendant has a prior conviction for these offenses within 2 years, the charge becomes a class D misdemeanor punishable by $2000 in fines and up to 364 days in jail. It is interesting that the so called “look back” period is so short; other Maine crimes (for instance Operating Under the Influence) are punished more harshly if a person has a conviction for the same offense within the past 10 years!

Promotion of Prostitution

[UPDATE: This offense has since been absorbed by Maine’s Sex Trafficking and Aggravated Sex Trafficking Law. click the link for up to date information about those crimes.] The more serious offenses are promotion of prostitution and aggravated promotion of prostitution. One promotes prostitution by:

  1. Causing or aiding another to commit or engage in prostitution, other than as a patron;
  2. Publicly soliciting patrons for prostitution
  3. Providing persons for purposes of prostitution
  4. Leasing or otherwise permitting a place controlled by the defendant, alone or in association with others, to be regularly used for prostitution
  5. Owning, controlling, managing, supervising or otherwise operating, in association with others, a house of prostitution or a prostitution business
  6. Transporting a person into or within the State with the intent that such other person engage in prostitution; or
  7. Accepting or receiving, or agreeing to accept or receive, a pecuniary benefit pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person, other than with a patron, whereby the person participates or the person is to participate in the proceeds of prostitution.

Violation is a Class D misdemeanor punishable by $2000 in fines and up to 364 days in jail. If the defendant “promotes prostitution by compelling a person to enter into, engage in, or remain in prostitution; or … Promotes prostitution of a person less than 18 years old” they can be charged with Aggravated Promotion of Prostitution which is a class B felony punishable by $20,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.

Defenses to Prostitution Charges:

The good news is that there are defenses. Most of the time, there are only two witnesses to this conduct. Unless a police officer is posing as a customer or a prostitue, the cases will require some proof that someone paid or attempted to pay for sex. A prostitue called to testify against a customer might not be a great witness: they may have committed a crime and so can’t be forced to testify unless they have been convicted or granted immunity. The same is true of a customer called to testify against the alleged prostitute. Even if the testimony can be secured, witnesses are often unwilling to speak, or may have significant credibility issues, such as a prior criminal history.

If the case involves police posing as prostitutes or customers, there may be an entrapment defense. As with any criminal case, there may be factual defenses questioning the existence or interpretation of facts. The reality is that the best evidence often comes from the defendant’s own statements admitting to the crime. This is why it is so important for people approached by police to invoke their right to remain silent and to contact a lawyer. In many cases, the most important thing a defendant can do it to get a lawyer involved early.

Sometimes there is No Good defense:

Even the when evidence is strong, it might be possible to negotiate a resolution that avoids a criminal conviction or limits the potential for embarrassing publicity. If a defendant, facing a no jail misdemeanor, decides to plead guilty, Maine law does allow an attorney to enter a guilty plea for them without the client ever needing to attend court.

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