SANTA FE (KRQE) - The prostitution case against former University of New Mexico President F. Chris Garcia took a big hit Wednesday when the state Supreme Court ruled a website isn't a brothel under state law.
The prostitution law at issues hasn't been updated since 198, a time when lawmakers couldn't have imagined the World Wide Web.
That didn't stop prosecutors with a high-profile case at risk from arguing websites have a physical presence.
"The Internet does not exist in our imagination," Assistant District Attorney Michael Fricke contended during the court hearing Wednesday. "It's kept on a server, it's kept on a hard drive, and that hard drive is a place."
Two years ago the former UNM president was arrested and accused by police of being one of the leaders of a nonprofit online prostitution forum called Southwest Companions.
Investigators say Garcia going by "Burque Pops" helped the site scout for new girls.
But when the District Attorney's Office in Albuquerque tried to indict Garcia for promoting prostitution, District Court Judge Stan Whitaker ruled that under state law a website could not be considered a house of prostitution.
"The state chose to up the ante on a statute that was clearly inapplicable," Robert Gorence, Garcia's attorney, told the justices.
In a 4-1 ruling, the justices agreed with Gorence.
"Judge Whitaker's ruling remains in effect," Chief Justice Petra Maes announced from the bench.
Garcia is now vindicated, according to his attorney.
"All I know is I have a very happy client who was tormented for a very long time unnecessarily who is factually innocent," Gorence said in the courthouse hallway.
The DA's office now has to regroup.
"I wouldn't say dead in the water," Fricke told reporters after the ruling. "We have to reevaluate and decide what we're going to do.
"There may be charges we can bring on another avenue, or we may decide not to do that."
It's unclear what options the DA has. The statute of limitations for patronizing a prostitute has already expired.
Garcia's other original charges were conspiracy and tampering with evidence.
But the court ruling means the crime at the center of the case isn't in fact a crime.
State Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, has introduced a bill that would make using a website or online forum to promote prostitution a felony in New Mexico.
That bill is working its way through committees in the 60-day session of the Legislature that began on Jan. 15.
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