Authorities arrested the CEO of adult classified website Backpage back in October on charges that users of the platform engaged in sex crimes involving the trafficking of adult and child victims. According to Fox News, authorities served a California warrant for the man’s arrest when he arrived at Houston’s Bush International Airport, and they raided the headquarters of the company in Dallas. The felony pimping charges stemmed from claims that victims were forced into prostitution through classified ads for escort services.
However, the charges against the company CEO and two co-defendants may be dropped based on recent developments in the case. While withholding a final decision in the matter, the presiding judge indicated that free speech laws may apply to clear the charges against the perpetrators.
Background of the Case
In its criminal complaint against Backpage’s CEO and two shareholders, the California Attorney General claims that the site is the equivalent of an online brothel. While the defendants didn’t personal engage in acts of prostitution, they’re accused as co-conspirators for pimping crimes because they profited from a transaction involving sex crimes. The complaint identifies nine minors who were allegedly trafficked for sex through Backpage listings.
Will the Backpage CEO go to Prison?
In court filings, defense attorneys argued that free speech laws protect the CEO and shareholders of the Backpage website. Specifically, the Communications Decency Act, enacted in 1996, states that operators of internet platforms cannot be held liable for content posted by third party users. The presiding judge in the case agreed, issuing a tentative ruling that could result in clearing the defendants of all charges if it becomes final.
One factor that may impact the judge’s decision is new evidence presented by prosecuting attorneys, who claim that the defendants were more actively involved in the matter: Their conduct went beyond simply hosting ads for sex trafficking because they actually re-posted the ads to drive business to two other websites. Such conduct may not be covered by the protections of the Communications Decency Act, which means the defendants could still be found guilty.
Cases in Other States
There are lawsuits involving Backpage currently pending in Massachusetts and Washington, involving similar circumstances. The company has been successful in fighting the claims under some of the same free speech principles set forth in the California case. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn rely upon the Communications Decency Act to operate, as they might otherwise be liable for content posted by the millions of users. The US Supreme Court is considering whether to hear cases where Backpage has been listed as a defendant.
Trusted Prison Consultants offering Free Consultations
A final decision won’t be released by the judge for some time, but the arguments made by Backpage attorneys show that a strong defense can be used to counter the allegations of prosecutors. If you’ve been charged with pimping or prostitution, you can contest the charges, but it’s important to discuss your options with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Criminal court rules are highly complicated, and retaining a lawyer can help you navigate the complex proceedings. For more information or questions on fighting sex crimes under California law, please contact our Federal Prison Consultants for more information.