Earlier this week, a three-panel appeals court broadened the legal definition of what constitutes criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota.
The panel heard the case of Brian Wilkie of Owatonna, who was charged with criminal sexual conduct in the third degree after conversing with a police officer who was posing as a 14-year-old boy on Grindr. The officer gave Wilkie his address and told him that his mother wasn’t home. Wilkie showed up at the residence and opened the door, at which point he was arrested by authorities. Wilkie argued that he did not meet the threshold for third-degree criminal sexual conduct because he did not engage in “physical contact, indecent exposure, or other act” that allowed the crime to be committed.
The panel of three judges disagreed with Wilkie, saying that the crime occurred the moment an individual “takes a substantial step” towards its commission. Although they noted that their holding wasn’t written in any law, the definition is defined by other court cases.
Judge Louise Dovre Bjorkman acknowledged that while other court cases cite that more action needs to be taken on behalf of the perpetrator, “actions that historically demonstrated a substantial step toward commission of a sex crime, such as preliminary physical contact, may no longer apply when social media is used to initiate the sexual encounter.” Bjorkman continued in her ruling:
Wilkie concedes that he intended to commit this crime. After exchanging sexually explicit messages and graphic photos, Wilkie arranged to meet with the decoy in private at a particular time and location. Wilkie obtained the decoy’s address, drove to the home at the agreed-upon time, confirmed the two would be alone in the home, parked his car, walked up the steps, and knocked on the door. At that point, the only thing left to take place was sexual penetration.
Chief Justice Judge Edward Cleary disagreed, saying that the social media component of Wilkie’s encounter fell into the “preperation” stage, not the commission. Judge Cleary wrote:
The appellant initially exchanged messages and photographs with the decoy on a social media application. After the communications continued, he arranged to meet the decoy at a certain time and location. He arrived at the agreed-upon location and knocked on the front door. While these actions do constitute illegal solicitation of someone the appellant believed to be a minor, they amount to preparation for, not an attempt to commit, the act of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a crime that involves “sexual penetration.”
Despite Cleary’s concerns, the three-judge panel set the precedent that knocking on a front door with intent to commit a crime with a minor is enough to meet the threshold for third-degree criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota.