FLORIDA PROSECUTORS on Thursday announced they were dropping misdemeanor charges against Kraft for soliciting prostitution, after a court ruled that the video evidence against him could not be used. The case raises legal issues about privacy rights and policing at a time when police conduct is coming under increased scrutiny. But it is also feeding into an ongoing national dialogue about policing and privilege – who is held accountable and who can escape culpability for their actions.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel said Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg appeared “angry and defiant” in a Zoom session with reporters, and took shots at Kraft’s wealth. “Individuals with significant means have the ability to hire the best lawyers and investigators to dissect every decision point made by law enforcement to find a weak spot and then exploit it to achieve an acquittal or a dismissal,” Aronberg said, explicitly calling out “economic inequities” in the justice system.
The case against Kraft hinged on a video that allegedly showed Kraft paying for a sex act at a Florida day spa in January 2019. Twenty-four other men were also charged with solicitation of prostitution.
But lower court judges, then a Florida Appeals Court, ruled that video evidence of the men must be thrown out because it was obtained improperly by the police.
The issue relates to the proper use of so-called “sneak-and-peak” warrants. The Palm Beach Post reported that sneak-and-peak warrants, which let the police surreptitiously tape the occupants of a private building, have been around since the 1970s but gained popularity after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a tool for catching terrorists. Traditional search warrants require the subject be notified before a search can be conducted. The Florida newspaper said critics argued that the warrants were meant to arrest terrorists – not to catch prostitutes and johns.
Kraft’s attorneys argued in court that no effort was made to minimize the surveillance and only focus on the alleged crime, as is required by federal law, and the judges agreed.
The Palm Beach Post notes that Florida authorities used similar surveillance in a 2014 prostitution sting in Boca Raton. “No one in the 2014 Boca Raton case challenged the authority of the sneak-and-peek warrant, possibly because none of the defendants had Robert Kraft’s deep pockets,” the Palm Beach Post wrote. “Kraft, 77, is reportedly worth $6 billion and has hired a group of high-profile attorneys to fight the charges.”
Of course, the fact that Kraft hired high-priced lawyers to defend him does not mean the legal ruling was wrong. But in a time when the role of racial and economic privilege in the justice system is getting a second and third look, the question is, as Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi put it, “whether the three-judge panel would have reached [the same conclusion] if the case didn’t involve the privacy rights of a rich, white man who owns a football team.”