A mistrial was declared in the case of the founders of the website Backpage on Tuesday 14 September 2021, after a judge ruled that US government prosecutors tainted the jury by focusing too closely on child sex trafficking.

Michael Lacey and James Larkin, co-founders of the US adult advertising website, were on trial on federal court in Phoenix, Arizona for conspiracy, facilitating prostitution and money laundering.

The prosecution said that they helped curate and encourage adverts on Backpage offering prostitution and touting the services of human trafficking victims.

Judge Susan Brnovich ruled that during the trial the prosecution had honed in too closely on accusations of child sex trafficking, which were not part of the charges being heard in court, reported AZCentral.

Declaring the mistrial on what was expected to be the eighth day of the trial, the judge said: “The government, as prosecutors, are held to a higher standard. Their goal is not to win at any costs, but their goal is to win by the rules.”

Backpage’s assets were seized by authorities in April 2018. The US government called the site: “The internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children.”

“Their goal is not to win at any costs, but their goal is to win by the rules”

Judge Susan Brnovich, on the US government’s case against Backpage’s founders

Backpage had previously steered clear of falling foul of the law partly due to the Communications Decency Act, which deems that websites are not legally responsible for content posted on them by external users.

Prosecutors argued that Backpage staff actively encouraged illegal adverts. During the trial, prosecutors brought out witnesses who said they had been trafficked through the website when they were underage: a move that contributed to the mistrial ruling.

Lacey’s attorney Paul Cambria said: “All they did was talk about kids, and the case isn’t about kids.”

A new trial date is yet to be set.

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