December 10, 2008 in Idaho

Court upholds Craig’s guilty plea

Senator says he might appeal again
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Craig
(Full-size photo)

Minnesota’s Court of Appeals has denied Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s appeal in a restroom sex-solicitation case, rejecting every one of his arguments for overturning his guilty plea to disorderly conduct charges.

Craig said he was “extremely disappointed” in Tuesday’s ruling and remained “steadfast in my belief that nothing criminal or improper occurred at the Minneapolis airport.”

The senator was arrested in a men’s room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in June 2007 after an undercover officer said Craig solicited him with foot taps and hand gestures under a stall wall.

Craig said in a statement Tuesday he was considering further appeals.

The senator could appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, but he’d have to petition the court to hear his case.

“Review is not automatic, and the court grants relatively few petitions,” said Steve Simon, a law professor at the University of Minnesota.

Simon noted that the Appeals Court ruling in Craig’s case was issued as an “unpublished” opinion, which means it has no value as a legal precedent. “The Minnesota Supreme Court grants review of very few unpublished opinions,” Simon said.

Craig argued that his mailed-in guilty plea contained insufficient facts to prove the crime; that the Minnesota law required “others” to be offended by Craig’s actions and that only one undercover officer was affected; that the undercover operation in the men’s room constituted entrapment because the officer “invited” Craig’s conduct; and that the Minnesota disorderly conduct statute is too broad infringes on free speech rights.

The court, in a unanimous opinion written by Chief Judge Edward Toussaint Jr., rejected Craig’s arguments. The plea was legal and adequate, the court ruled, and the requirement that “others” are affected by the criminal conduct is met by just one person being affected.

The court rejected any notion of entrapment, writing, “Here, the complaint clearly indicates that the criminal intent originated in the mind of appellant, not in the officer.”

The appellate judges also upheld the constitutionality of Minnesota’s disorderly conduct law.

Although the statute “is not directed particularly at public-restroom behavior, here it is the place in which the conduct occurred, as much as or more than the nature of the conduct, that determines its offensive nature,” the court found. “The conduct charged here occurred in a place in which the ordinary citizen might feel most eager to ‘avoid unwanted communication.’ … Even if appellant’s foot-tapping and the movement of his foot towards the undercover officer’s stall are considered ‘speech,’ they would be intrusive speech directed at a captive audience, and the government may prohibit them.”

Craig pleaded guilty Aug. 8, 2007, to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. He paid more than $500 in fines and received a year’s probation and a stayed 10-day jail term.

An undercover officer, who was in the bathroom stall next to Craig, said the senator used a foot-tapping, hand-gesturing ritual to solicit sex.

Craig was one of 40 men snared in the undercover investigation over several months, according to police reports, and most used near-identical signals. Some of the suspects admitted soliciting sex, while others denied it.

The investigation was launched after complaints of lewd conduct in the busy airport restroom.

After news of his arrest and guilty plea became public, Craig denied being gay and began working to overturn his guilty plea. He initially said he’d resign from the Senate but changed his mind and is serving out his term, which ends after this month. He didn’t seek re-election.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise go to spokesmanreview.com/boise.


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