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In criminal law, solicitation is the act of offering, or attempting to purchase, goods or services. Legal status may be specific to the time or place where solicitation occurs.
In England and Wales, the term soliciting is usually "for a person (whether male or female) persistently to loiter or solicit in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution" under the Street Offences Act 1959 as amended. The crime of soliciting should not be confused with the profession of a solicitor, which under UK law is typically that of a lawyer, who may also function as a legal agent to obtain the services of a barrister on behalf of a client.
In the United States, solicitation is the name of a crime, an inchoate offense that consists of a person offering money or inducing another to commit a crime with the specific intent that the person solicited commit the crime.
Solicitation has in the U.S. these unique elements:
Unlike conspiracy, there is no overt step necessary for solicitation, one person can be a defendant, and it merges with the substantive crime.
It is not necessary that the person actually commit the crime, nor is it necessary that the person solicited be willing or able to commit the crime (such as if the "solicitee" were an undercover police officer).
For example, if Alice commands Bob to assault Charlie, and Alice intends for Bob to assault Charlie, then Alice is guilty of solicitation. However, if Alice commands Bob to assault Charlie without intending that an actual crime be committed (perhaps believing that Charlie has given consent), then there is no solicitation.
An interesting twist on solicitation occurs when a third party that the solicitor did not intend to receive the incitement overhears the request to the original solicitee and unbeknownst to the solicitor, commits the target offense. In a minority of jurisdictions in the United States, this situation would still be considered solicitation even though the defendant never intended the person that committed the crime to have done so.
Solicitation is also subject to the doctrine of merger, which applies in situations where the person solicited actually commits the crime. In such a situation, both Alice and Bob could be charged with the crime as accomplices, which would preclude conviction under solicitation; a person cannot be punished for both solicitation and the crime solicited.
In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to ignore "no soliciting" signs with the burden typically resting upon the solicitor to look for the sign and upon observation to vacate the premises without attempting to contact the homeowner. Some cities require the employer to properly train employees on the appropriate observation of local solicitation ordinances and instruct them to always carry an identifying badge that they most show upon request.
City ordinances vary but may require a soliciting sign to be of a certain dimension to qualify for legal protection. Some signs are designed to clearly cite the city ordinance and describe the consequences to the solicitor. Although certainly not required, such methods may be more effective at deterring unwanted solicitation.
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No soliciting signs are intended to protect business from panhandlers or individuals attempting to sell products or services to that business' patrons on business property, thus taking potential revenue away from that business.
It is a common misconception that a simple "no soliciting" sign is meant to keep individuals from attempting to speak with a business owner or principal about his products or services. While this may be accomplished using a more detailed sign specifically asking vendors not to promote themselves to employees or principals, most sales professionals are taught to bypass simple "no soliciting" signs and interpret them to mean "do not solicit our patrons".
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