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Cruising For A Suing

Gilchrist says crimes against nature busts to continue for now

Charlotte Attorney Ray Warren hopes the Mecklenburg County court system doesn't turn his client into a local crimes against nature poster boy. But he's willing to go there if that's what it takes. Warren spent the weekend putting together a brief he plans to send to District Attorney Peter Gilchrist and State Attorney General Roy Cooper this week. The brief argues that soliciting a crime against nature charges against his client, a gay male, should be dropped because they're unconstitutional. Warren plans to argue that a ruling by the US Supreme Court two weeks ago that struck down a Texas sodomy law aimed at gays makes North Carolina's crimes against nature law invalid. He hopes the brief will encourage prosecutors to drop the charges against his client, whose case is scheduled to be heard on Friday.

"I really don't want to put my client's name on this brief," said Warren, a former state legislator and gay activist.

Warren says his client was jogging in a park when he was approached twice by undercover male police officers who made sexual overtures to him. When the man verbally accepted the second officer's offer, he was arrested and charged with soliciting a crime against nature, Warren claims.

In Mecklenburg County, police have often responded to complaints of cruising -- a practice in which men frequent certain public areas looking for gay sex -- with undercover crackdowns in which they pose as gay men. Because money doesn't usually change hands in cruising situations, prostitution charges don't apply, so police have often made use of the state's crimes against nature law to arrest cruisers or those who accept their overtures.

After the Texas Supreme Court ruling, which addressed a case in which two men were charged with committing sodomy in a private residence, Gilchrist said he would continue prosecuting crimes against nature charges for the time being.

The Texas situation was somewhat different from the ones his office prosecutes in Mecklenburg County, said Gilchrist.

"We don't bust down doors in apartments," said Gilchrist. "We've used that for folks soliciting for prostitution, be it heterosexual or homosexual. We've used it where acts were going on that were visible in public parks. I think we've been selective in how we've applied the law so I would anticipate that we would continue to do what we've been doing."

Gilchrist said he intends to consult with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper's office on the matter since the attorney general often deals with these cases once they're appealed.

A spokesperson for Cooper's office wouldn't provide a direct answer when asked if continued use of North Carolina's crimes against nature law is unconstitutional.

"Our office consults with district attorneys, but ultimately it is up to them to decide whether to continue to bring charges under the law," said Attorney General's office spokesperson John Bason. "Similarly, it is the responsibility of judges to interpret the Supreme Court's ruling and decide whether the charges can go forward. The attorney general's office handles criminal cases on appeal, after a judge has ruled that the case can go forward and a defendant has been convicted."

Keith Bridges, a spokesperson for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said that for the time being, officers would continue making crimes against nature arrests in public places.

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