In August 2019, Hennepin County officials charged singer Robert S. Kelly with two counts of soliciting a child prostitute in connection with a 2001 incident in Minneapolis.
According to court documents, the alleged victim was 17 when she asked R. Kelly for his autograph in July 2001. Kelly allegedly gave her the autograph and a telephone number. While she was inside Kelly’s Minneapolis hotel room, Kelly gave her $200 to dance naked. He fondled her as she danced, according to the complaint. After she saw a January 2019 Lifetime TV mini-series entitled Surviving R. Kelly, she called police. An investigator spoke with her brother, who said that his sister told him she danced for Kelly in his hotel room, but she provided no further details.
“It is despicable that Mr. Kelly used his fame in order to prey on underage girls,” declared Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman during a news conference announcing the charges.
Probable Cause in Sex Crime Cases
Even though probable cause is a very low standard, a hearing on this issue in the R. Kelly Minnesota prostitution case could go either way.
Courts have intentionally never defined “probable cause.” But a case from neighboring Iowa may shed some light on the subject. In 2015, officers pulled over a defendant for traveling 66mph in a 65mph zone. The officers knew that since 1mph is within a radar gun’s margin of error, the charges would not hold up in court. Nevertheless, the judge ruled that officers had probable cause.
In the R. Kelly case, officers relied heavily on the brother’s statement. He recalled that his sister danced for R. Kelly in his hotel room, and it’s reasonable to assume she did not dance the polka. Although the multiple leaps from seductive dancing to nude dancing to inappropriate touching is a bit tenuous, it may be enough for probable cause, given the aforementioned 66-in-a-65 case.
However, this case involved some grandstanding. Going into an election year, the Hennepin County Attorney staged an elaborate press conference to announce the charges. It is also reasonable to assume, given the lack of evidence, that authorities never would have followed up on the tip if the defendant had been Kelly Roberts instead of Robert Kelly. More on that tip below.
Establishing Guilt in Sex Crime Cases
The R. Kelly sex crime charges may be able to survive a probable cause hearing, but it’s extremely doubtful that prosecutors could establish guilt.
The brother’s corroboration is hearsay. So, it is admissible for probable cause purposes, but inadmissible for guilt-innocence purposes. As a result, prosecutors would only have a twenty-year-old statement from the alleged victim. Any physical evidence, such as security footage that shows the alleged victim going into the hotel room, is probably long gone by now.
Significantly, the alleged victim said nothing about the incident until she saw a one-sided “documentary” about the subject. That link is not enough to discount her story, but it is enough to raise an eyebrow.
When the alleged victim testifies in court, as she must do under the Confrontation Clause, she will probably testify with great precision as to what happened in the hotel room. But her memories of ancillary events, like the hotel room number or even the name of the hotel, might be rather fuzzy. That incongruity may be enough for at least a few jurors to doubt her version of events.
The prosecutor has the burden of proof to establish all elements of an underage prostitution case. That includes either sexual penetration, which clearly did not happen in this case, or sexual contact, which would be difficult to prove.
How Buffalo, MN Felony Lawyers Reduce Sex Offense Consequences
In many situations, the collateral consequences of a sex crime conviction are worse than the direct consequences. Court supervision periods and even prison time pass rather quickly, at least in most cases. But a registration requirement could last for a very long time and significantly affect everyday life.
In Minnesota, an End-of-Confinement Review Committee has considerable power. These five individuals — all of whom are connected to law enforcement in some way — assign a threat level to each offender. When making this assessment, the Committee must consider the following items:
- Severity of the offense,
- Criminal history,
- Offender’s characteristics (mostly any history of substance abuse),
- Support network,
- Offender’s statements, or other evidence, which indicate reoffense is likely, and
- Any mitigating physical conditions (e.g. the offender is very old or has a disability).
Low-risk Level I offenders must register, but only law enforcement has access to the data. For moderate-risk Level II offenders, law enforcement releases registration information to daycares and other such organizations which may be at risk. Everyone knows about high-risk Level III offenders. Additionally, when Level III offenders relocate, law enforcement holds community events to announce the relocation.
A Buffalo, MN felony lawyer can present evidence to the committee, such as psychological evaluations and witness statements, to convince the committee to assign a lower risk level. At a later time, an attorney may be able to reduce the level one notch or even erase the defendant’s name from the database altogether.
Contact a Tenacious Attorney
Delayed report sex crimes cases are difficult to prove in court. For a free consultation with an experienced Buffalo, MN felony lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.