California Penal Code Section 267 prohibits kidnapping of a minor for the purposes of prostitution. To convict you of this crime, a prosecutor must satisfy all of the following elements of this offense:
- You take away any other person;
- That person is under the age of 18;
- You take away the person from their father, mother or legal guardian;
- You do not have his or her consent; and
- You take away the minor in order to use him or her for prostitution.
Every element of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order to successfully prosecute you for violating the law.
In a recent case decided in the California Court of Appeal, a defendant challenged his conviction for kidnapping a 17-year-old girl for the purposes of prostitution. On appeal, the defendant argued that the evidence against him was insufficient to support his conviction because the minor victim was not in the legal custody of a parent or guardian at the time of her abduction. Thus, she was never “taken away.”
The court disagreed and upheld his conviction.
People v. Justin Steele (Case No. C071857, Cal. Court of Appeal, March 7, 2014)
A jury returned a guilty verdict against defendant Justin Steele on multiple counts involving two minor victims, including kidnapping for prostitution, pimping, pandering, human trafficking, abduction, criminal threats, forced oral copulation and personal use of a weapon.
The defendant was sentenced to 176 years to life in prison.
He appealed his conviction on several grounds, including that there was insufficient evidence that he abducted “D.R.” – one of his minor female victims. Specifically, he claimed there was no evidence that 17-year-old D.R. was in the legal custody of her parent or guardian at the time of her abduction.
Difficulties at home resulted in D.R.’s mother to ask the girl to leave her mother’s residence. Without stating where she was going, D.R. left home. She had gone to stay with her boyfriend. During this time, Steele abducted the girl and forced her to orally copulate a man responding to an online ad that had been placed offering the girl’s prostitution services.
D.R. later testified that she never “technically” ran away and always returns home. Additionally, text messages showed that she was in contact with her mother around the time of her abduction.
The defendant argued that “the taking of a minor, who comes and goes as she pleases, from the company of her boyfriend” did not constitute a crime under Penal Code Section 267.
The defendant relied on the one-hundred-year-old case, People v. Flores (1911) 160 Cal. 766, which reversed a defendant’s kidnapping a minor for prostitution conviction because there was insufficient evidence that the minor was under the legal custody of her mother.
In that case, the court reasoned that no crime was committed upon an abandoned underage female “who is not in the legal charge of anyone, but a wanderer upon the town, [and] is aided in being placed in a house of prostitution.”
The court in People v. Flores explained that the minor was not “taken from the mother” because the child was not with nor under the immediate control and custody of her mother, but rather living separately from her, going from place to place under her own volition.
How Did the Appellate Court Rule?
In the present case, the court determined that the jury had no reason to conclude that D.R. had been abandoned by her mother. In fact, the court found the evidence showed that although the girl’s mother had asked D.R. to leave home in the month prior to her being abducted, the girl was in regular communication with her mother. Additionally, the mother had filed a missing persons report with the police not long before charges were brought against the defendant.
The court determined that the facts showed the girl was still in her mother’s legal custody and that “contrary to defendant’s argument, [the girl and her mother] enjoyed a substantive parent-child relationship in which the mother endeavored to protect D.R.’s safety and character.”
The court decided that a temporary separation of parent and child due to “family dynamics” does not suggest that the protections provided under Penal Code Section 267 were unavailable in the case.
The court concluded that the evidence supported the charge against the defendant. The defendant’s conviction and sentence was affirmed.
Was This Ruling Fair?
Yes. Nothing on the record in this case suggests that D.R.’s mother had abandoned her. In fact, her mother expressed concern for her daughter’s safety when she filed a missing person’s report not long after the girl left home.
The elements of a kidnapping charge under Penal Code Section 267 require a minor being taken away from his or her parent or guardian who maintain legal custody over the minor. The girl in this case had not been abandoned; merely, a family squabble had occurred. The parent and child were temporarily separated, but still in contact. The mother’s custody was never an issue. Therefore, the girl was kidnapped.
Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich want you to be aware that kidnapping a minor for prostitution or for any other unlawful sexual purpose is a serious felony. Kidnapping with intent to commit a sex crime counts as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes law and is punishable by a lengthy prison sentence as well as a lifetime duty to register as a sex offender.
Contact Wallin & Klarich if You are Charged with Kidnapping of a Minor for Prostitution
If you or someone you love has been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping a minor or any felony matter, do not hesitate to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney at Wallin & Klarich today. Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients facing kidnapping charges.
We will examine every aspect of the allegations against you to determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute you beyond a reasonable doubt. We may be able to argue that your charges should be reduced or dismissed if any of the elements of the crime are missing or in question.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich will give you the personal attention you deserve to make certain you receive the very best legal defense. We will spend the time and effort necessary to help you get the best result possible in your case.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.