- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - The lawyer for a Sawyer superintendent and high school principal accused of sex crimes involving a 15-year-old boy says his client should not have been charged with felony human trafficking.

Charles Soper, 51, has pleaded not guilty to charges of human trafficking, corruption or the solicitation of minors, and luring minors by computer. Police allege that Soper developed a sexual relationship with the boy, and many of the encounters between November 2014 and March 2015 also involved different adult men, the Minot Daily News reported (https://bit.ly/1KBMQA6 ).

Soper’s attorney, Eric Baumann, argued during a Friday hearing before North Central District Court Judge Doug Mattson that the 2015 state Legislature revised the state’s human trafficking statute to clarify that there must be a commercial element. He said there is no accusation that money changed hands.

Jonathan Byers, an attorney with the state Attorney General’s Office, told Mattson that the statute in effect at the time would apply. He said both the old version of the human trafficking statute and the new version are Class AA felonies, so the sentencing guidelines would be the same.

The human trafficking charge carries a maximum punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.



Baumann argued that the version of the statute that was in effect at the time had vague language and was overly broad.

According to a police affidavit, Soper and the boy first met in November 2014 on Grindr, a dating app for gay and bisexual people, and that they had sex 11 times with other adult men present on most occasions.

Baumann also argued that Soper may have been selectively prosecuted because of his prominence as a school superintendent at the time, because the case involved homosexual activity and because the alleged victim was 15 at the time of the offense.

Ward County Deputy State’s Attorney Kelly Dillon said prosecutors would have reacted no differently if Soper had been a common laborer and the victim a juvenile female.

Further hearings are scheduled for Oct. 27.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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