Does Law Banning “Lur[ing] … a Child into a Motor Vehicle” Cover Simply Offering a Child a Ride?

No, said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday in Commonwealth v. Hart (Pa. Sept. 28, 2011), over one judge’s dissent (and with an interesting short concurrence). Here’s an excerpt from the majority opinion:

[W]e determine that a “lure” involves the making of a promise of pleasure or gain, the furnishing of a temptation or enticement, or the performance of some other affirmative act calculated to strongly induce another individual to take a particular action, usually and most often likely to result in his or her harm.

By contrast, the acts of merely extending a plain invitation, or making a neutral offer to another person, which are unaccompanied by any inducement intended or designed to increase the probability that the person will accept, do not, in their most common understanding, constitute endeavors to “lure.” Such acts simply do not involve the additional and extra element of powerful persuasion designed to influence the person to take action, which is the sine qua non of a lure. See Adamo, 637 A.2d at 307 (holding that a simple offer of a ride by a friend or neighbor does not constitute a “lure” as that term is usually defined, as the offer is not accompanied by an inducement such as a “promise of pleasure,” “an enticement,” or prospect of “financial gain”).

Therefore, as the legislature specifically chose to use the term “lure” in Section 2910, not alternative words such as “invite” or “offer entry,” and because this is a penal statute which we must strictly construe, it is only that particular and specific conduct meeting the definition of a “lure” which this statute properly may be interpreted to criminally prohibit.

Consistent with the plain and unambiguous meaning of the term “lure,” we therefore hold that an attempt to lure under Section 2910 does not occur upon the mere offer of a ride in a motor vehicle to a child, but, rather, involves only situations where a child is provided a further enticement or inducement to enter the vehicle, in addition to the offer of the ride, particularly under such circumstances which suggest the child is being led into a potentially harmful situation. As the Superior Court recognized in Adamo, this enticement or inducement may be the promise of a pleasurable reward for entry into the vehicle such as receiving money or a treat such as candy or ice cream. Likewise, a similar attractive temptation could be created with the promise of the opportunity for the child to view an object of interest like a toy, a game, or a puppy. The enticement or inducement need not necessarily be express, but could also arise where the enticement and inducement is evident from the circumstances accompanying the making of the offer.

The statute provides, in relevant part,

Unless the circumstances reasonably indicate that the child is in need of assistance, a person who lures or attempts to lure a child into a motor vehicle or structure [that is not open to the general public] without the consent, express or implied, of the child’s parent or guardian commits a misdemeanor of the first degree.

It shall be an affirmative defense to a prosecution under this section that the person lured or
attempted to lure the child into the structure for a lawful purpose.