State May Charge Defendant With Enticement of a Minor After Federal Charges Dropped – State v. Canton
Recently, I’ve written on this blog about double jeopardy issues in cyber crime cases. The U.S. Constitution forbids prosecutors from convicting someone of two crimes for the same conduct, which has led to challenges under the duplicative federal child pornography statutes. But interestingly, there is no double jeopardy prohibition against charging a defendant with the same crime in both federal and state courts, as the defendant found out in State of Utah v. Canton. Reinaldo Canton originally faced federal charges for attempting to entice a minor, but they were dropped. Less than two months later, the state of Utah brought charges against Canton for the same conduct. Canton challenged this under the two-year statute of limitations, but the Utah Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the trial court that the deadline should be lifted while Canton was out of the state.
Canton, a New Mexico resident, became entangled with Utah law enforcement when he started communicating with a “fifteen-year-old girl” online. The girl was actually an undercover federal agent, and Canton was arrested when he came to a prearranged meeting place expecting sex. He originally faced federal charges for attempted coercion and enticement of a minor for sex. A Utah federal magistrate permitted Canton to return home to New Mexico and travel to Utah for court proceedings. During this time, however, Canton suffered heart problem requiring surgery. He argued that he was too sick to continue traveling back and forth to Utah and moved to dismiss. The magistrate granted the dismissal without prejudice. About six weeks later, the state of Utah charged Canton with enticement of a minor. This was more than two years after the actual conduct, so Canton moved to dismiss under the two-year statute of limitations. The trial court denied this, finding that the statute was tolled because Canton had been out of state.
Canton ultimately entered a conditional guilty plea and filed this appeal. He argued to the Utah Supreme Court that he was not truly out of state during the federal case because he maintained a legal presence by continuing to travel to Utah, and was under the state’s sovereign authority. Alternatively, he also argued that tolling the deadline would violate the Utah state constitution’s uniform operation of laws provision. The high court ultimately found for the prosecution. Parsing the statute very carefully, it found that “out of the state” refers to physical presence in common speech, and is not a legal term of art. Nor is the statute unconstitutional, the court said. The uniform operations rule operates like the Equal Protection Clause, the court noted, and Canton has not demonstrated an equal protection problem. No apparent fundamental right is affected, the court said, and no suspect classification is being made. It upheld the trial court.
Criminal statutes of limitations—the deadlines by which prosecutors must bring charges—can be “tolled,” or suspended, when the circumstances warrant. In this case, the Utah high court found that physical absence from the state is enough to suspend that deadline, even though Canton’s whereabouts were well known. The real reason the state didn’t charge him was, of course, the parallel federal proceeding that ultimately was dismissed. Because I defend clients in both federal and state solicitation of a minor cases, I’d like to note that state-law charges are not necessarily less serious than federal charges, although people may perceive them that way. Either charge has very heavy penalties attached, including long prison sentences as well as the collateral consequence of being a registered sex offender.
If you’re charged with attempting to arrange sex with a minor online—even if it was really a policeman—don’t wait to call the cyber crime attorneys at Seltzer Law, P.A. You can reach us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email.
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