Solicitation is asking someone to do something, or begging or pleading with them to do it, but in the legal sense, the request is to do something criminal. There are many ways that one person can solicit someone else to commit a criminal act or to get a person to participate in something illegal. This distinction is important because a person solicited doesn’t have to commit a crime but might be asked for participation in something that is criminal.
Many people also think of prostitution as the only example of illegal solicitation, since a prostitute enjoining someone else to exchange sexual relations for money usually faces this charge, if caught. This is only one example of the ways people may solicit, and it’s valuable to note that the request is often enough to justify criminal charges. A crime doesn’t have to take place for someone to be prosecuted for this offense.
It’s difficult to list all types of solicitation. People can ask others to commit criminal acts like buying drugs, robbing a store, or beating up someone else. In corporations, it’s often illegal to solicit shareholder votes on particular issues, and any attempts to influence government officials like police officers or members of the court to change their minds may be offenses too.
An invitation to join illegally structured businesses is another form of solicitation. For example, asking someone to invest money in a Ponzi scheme or be part of a pyramid scheme is soliciting, and people who are simple “salespeople” for these illegal ventures could still go to jail for having entreated others to join. Whether or not the person asked knows he’s being solicited to join something illegal doesn’t matter because investigation tends to focus more on the solicitor: the person who did know that he was asking others to take part in something illegal.
How courts treat solicitation depends on solicited acts and regional laws, and these acts needn’t have occurred. Many illegal financial schemes are exposed when people get suspicious of their intent and report the matter, and any salespeople involved would technically be guilty of soliciting every single person they contacted, not just those who they convinced to join. Similarly, a prostitute could ask an undercover policeman for an exchange of sexual favors for money, and could be charged with solicitation though no exchange took place.
In minor offenses, charges might be at the misdemeanor level. Solicitation attempts to commit serious crimes, like murder for hire, could be felonies. If an actual crime has been committed, the courts often treat the solicitor as though he committed the crime.
The legal ramifications get complicated when a crime isn’t committed. There has to be proof, in many instances, that a person really meant the crime to be committed. Solicitation charges may only be successful if it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the person wanted the crime to happen when asking someone else to commit it.