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In the United States, solicitation is a crime; it is an inchoate offense that consists of a person offering money or something else of value in order to incite or induce another to commit a crime with the specific intent that the person solicited commit the crime. The term 'solicitation' always implies some sort of commercial element (payment). Local ordinances that forbid solicitation may prevent door-to-door sales, but they cannot exclude Jehovah's Witnesses, political candidates or others who advocate a position, but do not offer or request money. In the other common law countries, the situation is different:
- where the substantive offense is not committed, the charges are drawn from incitement, conspiracy, and attempt;
- where the substantive offense is committed, the charges are drawn from conspiracy, counseling and procuring (see accessories), and the substantive offenses as joint principals (see common purpose).
In England and Wales, the term soliciting alone refers to "loitering or soliciting in a public place for the purpose of prostitution" under the Street Offences Act 1959. For the latest Home Office proposals on this offence, see .
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.
Note that solicitation can apply to just about any criminal act. There are also many statutes for specific solicitation crimes. For example, solicitation of murder is often considered a capital offense, and has its own statute. Other examples might be solicitation of prostitution, or solicitation of a bribe.