Your quest to have a good time or earn your next meal through prostitution could lead to criminal charges for prostitution and soliciting in California.
Sometimes you could be an innocent bystander arrested for a crime you didn't commit.
California considers prostitution illegal, and law enforcement dedicates a portion of its resources to curb the vice. While this seems farfetched, prostitution often co-occurs with major crimes such as drug-related crimes, violent crimes, and human trafficking.
But when you are on the receiving end of a criminal charge for prostitution and solicitation, all you want to do is defend yourself and regain your freedom. We understand this need at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. We are ready to offer professional legal defense services when you contact us to the end of the criminal procedure (and beyond if the circumstances call for it).
Overview of Prostitution and Soliciting
California Penal Code 647(b) makes it a crime to engage or solicit prostitution. Under this law, both the sex worker and the client are guilty and could face incarceration and fines when convicted. The law also covers intermediaries or pimps who facilitate the exchange of money or other forms of compensation with sex under separate statutes.
California law defines prostitution as exchanging money, goods, services, or other forms of compensation for lewd or sexual acts. This law applies even if the proposed action did not occur. Therefore, you could be guilty of violating PC 647(b) if you:
- Engage in prostitution
- Solicit an act of prostitution
- Agree to engage in prostitution
Specifically, the prosecution will have to prove some aspects of the crime to secure a conviction. These elements will depend on the exact circumstances, including engaging in, soliciting, or agreeing to engage in prostitution.
Engaging in the act of prostitution means that you:
- Willfully engage in a sexual or lewd act with another person.
- Engage in this act in exchange for money, goods, services, or another form of compensation
A willful act is one into which you were not coerced regardless of your intent to break the law. You also act willfully if the other person did not use fraud, threats, or flattery to conceal the offense's true nature or manipulate you into committing prostitution.
Lewd acts involve touching the female breast, genitals, or buttocks of another person with the intent to arouse or gratify someone sexually.
Soliciting prostitution refers to the act of requesting another person to engage in prostitution with that person. The customer or the sex worker can be guilty of soliciting, depending on the person requesting the act.
When you are charged with soliciting, the prosecution must present clear evidence of the intent to engage in prostitution. You cannot be guilty of merely:
- Being in an area known for prostitution
- Being dressed in provocative clothing and standing in a street corner
- Waving or nodding to strangers
An offer to compensate the other person for engaging in prostitution is often enough to prove that you were soliciting prostitution and had the intent to engage in the act with the other person.
Intent is not hinged upon the other person’s response or intent. Therefore, you could still be charged with soliciting even if the other person declines your offer or has no intention of going through with it.
Most people soliciting prostitution find themselves falling into the hands of undercover decoy officers. Such officers will arrest you immediately or lead you on until you sink yourself deeper into the trap (and offer better evidence to prosecute you).
You are also guilty of violating California’s prostitution and solicitation laws by agreeing to engage in prostitution and commit another act that shows your intention to follow through. The prosecution needs to prove the following to show that you have violated PC 647(b):
- You agreed to engage in prostitution with another person.
- You intended to engage in the act of prostitution with that person.
- You agreed to engage in the act and committed another act to facilitate the act of prostitution.
Some acts that further the commission of an act of prostitution include:
- Accepting or offering payment
- Going to the location where the act will take place (including getting into the customer’s car and driving off with him or her)
- You begin the act, for instance, by undressing.
Prostitution by Minors
Before 2016, a minor could be arrested and convicted (in juvenile court) for engaging in prostitution. However, California’s governor Brown changed the law through the signing of Senate Bill 1322, which states that minors cannot be prostitutes.
The bill recognizes that most minors who engage in commercial sex are victims of exploitation or abandonment. The bill also acknowledges the adverse effects a conviction had on children, who are themselves victims of an exploitative society.
The bill excludes minors from charges of prostitution, solicitation, or loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution. The bill also requires law enforcement agencies to place in protective custody victims of commercial sex exploitation. The exploited minor becomes a dependent child of the court.
Alternatively, law enforcement can place such minors in temporary custody, after which the court will order the placement of the child with a family member or an emergency shelter.
Other provisions of the bill include:
- Individuals should not conceal recording devices to take pictures, record video, or the sound of another person’s body without that person’s prior consent. Violation of this provision attracts a minimum jail term of 45 days for first offenders and a minimum of 90 days for subsequent offenders. The offenders, in each case, are not eligible for parole or probation.
- Offenders will also spend a minimum of 72 hours in jail and pay fines between $1000 and $10,000 if they knew that they had solicited a minor.
What to Do When Arrested for Prostitution or Soliciting
Police officers arrest prostitutes and Johns through sting operations on the ground and the internet in most cases. They could stand on streets scantily dressed or post ads in places where prostitutes meet to advertise their services or where customers solicit prostitution.
Prostitution charges are not as serious as violent charges since they are first-degree misdemeanors, but they can affect your professional licensing and relationships with your family and friends. These adverse effects will perhaps plague your mind when an officer arrests you for either prostitution or solicitation.
When this happens, knowing what to do can be a step towards minimizing the negative influence an arrest, or worse, a conviction, could have on your career or relationships.
The first thing you need to do is remain silent. Most people talk too much and end up divulging the information that the prosecution will use against them. You have the right to remain silent through police questioning and request to communicate only through your attorney.
Avoid talking during the arrest, the ride to the police station, or at the station. If you are arrested during a police sting operation, the likelihood is that the officer is recording your conversation, and could keep recording it. Do yourself a favor and shut up.
Now that you will only talk through your lawyer contact a criminal defense attorney to represent you. Typically, you might find agents hanging around courtrooms or police stations seeking clients. Do not go with the first one you find out of desperation.
Contact your friend or family and request them to hire an attorney on your behalf. Once you find an attorney you are comfortable working with, they will guide you through the implications of the arrest, what to expect, and the possible penalties you are looking at.
Most attorneys will want to hear your side of the story so that they can prepare a legal defense strategy and avoid surprises along the way. Attorneys are bound by ethics not to disclose information that their clients provide in good faith. Therefore, even if the attorney does not work with you, he or she cannot legally divulge the information you provide, although he or she will not help you commit perjury, conceal evidence, or commit another crime.
Cooperate with your attorney to facilitate a smoother defense. For instance, provide detailed information about the activities that led to the arrest, including the arresting officer (in the case of sting operations).
Your attorney could stop the prosecution from filing charges if he or she can prove to the DA that the crime’s circumstances do not amount to prostitution or solicitation.
An attorney could also help you secure bail to attend the proceedings of your case from the outside. Note that if you fail to appear for any court hearing, the judge could revoke your bail and charge you for contempt of court.
Your attorney will advise you on various legal matters throughout the criminal process, your case’s progress, and the possible outcomes depending on the case. Your attorney will also spearhead initiatives such as plea deals, motions to suppress unlawfully obtained evidence, and motions to discredit witnesses and evidence.
These processes are important for enhancing the success of your legal defense.
You will have to prepare a defense strategy if you plan to plead ‘not guilty’ to prostitution and soliciting charges. Your defense relies heavily on the circumstances of the offense, the nature and reliability of the evidence, and your intent at the time of the alleged offense.
Another often-overlooked factor that influences your defense’s success is the skill and experience your defense attorney has. Skilled attorneys are those who understand how the prosecution, the police, and the court systems work.
They are also familiar with the laws that affect your case, past cases similar to yours, the defenses used, the rulings, and applying these facts to your case.
A skilled attorney offers a wholesome defense package, which gets the best results from your case. That said, your attorney could apply one or more of these common defenses to prostitution and solicitation:
As mentioned earlier, prostitution co-occurs with serious offenses such as drug crimes and violent crimes such as murder and burglary. Therefore, law enforcement officials often place undercover officers to help catch and collect evidence to aid the prosecution of these offenders and hopefully curb the spread of these violent crimes.
Police officers will also target prostitutes and their customers in their stings, sometimes posing as these prostitutes or customers.
However, overzealous officers eager to meet their targets could, through entrapment, coerce otherwise law-abiding citizens into acts of prostitution, which they would not engage in otherwise.
Under the law, an officer can pretend they intend to commit a crime to draw out offenders. For instance, an officer can act as a prostitute or customer to draw out other offenders. However, they should not engage in activities such as:
- Incessant request despite repeated declines from the other party
- Appeals of sympathy or friendship
- Guarantees or appeals that the act is legal or will be undetected
- Offers of extraordinary benefits
When proving entrapment, the defense has to prove that it is more likely that the officer engaged in entrapment. You also have to prove that you would not otherwise have engaged in prostitution.
Officer O'Hara is an undercover cop posing as a prostitute. She is dressed as one and stands at a street corner. John is driving along that street, and O'Hara approaches his car to offer her services. John eagerly accepts and goes with her, after which she arrests him. In this case, John would have committed prostitution with O’Hara even if she were not an officer; therefore, he cannot use entrapment as a defense since the officer did not coerce him into prostitution.
However, supposing O’Hara meets John as he is leaving his office. She offers her services, which John turns down repeatedly. Seeing that her approach is not working, O’Hara tries a sob story to convince John to sleep with her. She pleads that she would be thrown off the streets and needs the money from this gig. John relents out of pity and weariness, after which O’Hara arrests him. In this case, John's defense team can successfully use entrapment to fight charges of prostitution.
California has a high standard of proof for criminal cases; the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime.
The prosecution cannot rely upon he said/she said testimonies from the defendant or the arresting officer as the sole evidence of the crime.
A trustworthy piece of evidence, for example, would be a recording of the defendant agreeing to or soliciting prostitution. Without such concrete evidence, the defense can successfully challenge the conviction of the defendant.
The prosecution might have trustworthy evidence, but not enough of it to prove that you are guilty of prostitution. For example, a defendant could have paid or engaged in what seems like an act of prostitution, without intending to prostitute. A case in point would be if the defendant gives or takes money, but not as a reward or an exchange for sex.
In this case, the defendant could assert that he or she had no intention of prostituting or soliciting.
Sometimes a successful defense involves acquittal or dropping of charges against the defendant. In other cases, it is a plea bargain to a lesser charge. These charge reductions could have less stiff consequences and stigma associated with prostitution and soliciting. The common charge reductions due to plea bargains in prostitution and solicitation charges include:
- PC 415 disturbing the peace
- PC 602 Criminal trespass
- PC 647 (1) lewd conduct in public
Penalties for Prostitution and Solicitation
Prostitution and solicitation in California are always charged as misdemeanors. However, the offense’s penalties vary depending on your criminal history and where you committed the offense.
A first offense will attract a sentence of up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Since the offense is priorable, the penalties will increase with subsequent violations.
A second offense attracts a mandatory minimum term of 45 days in county jail. The court will sentence you to a mandatory minimum term of 90 days in a county jail for a third or subsequent violation.
If you committed the offense while using a car and were within 1000 feet of a residence, the court would impose the following penalties.
- Jail time and fines as above
- Suspension of your driver’s license for up to 30 days
- A restricted license for up to 6 months (instead of suspension of your license)
Fortunately, prostitution and solicitation are not offenses where convicts have to register as sex offenders. In some rare cases, the judge could require you to register as a sex offender. Such cases typically arise where you compelled the other person to commit the offense against his or her will, for example, if you raped the prostitute.
Some of the offenses related to prostitution and solicitation include:
PC 266 h Pimping and Pandering
Pimping is the crime of knowingly living off the earnings of a prostitute, fully or wholly. It could also include exchanging part or whole of the prostitute's pay for getting clients for the prostitute.
Closely related to pimping is the crime of pandering, which involves:
- Availing another person for prostitution
- Recruiting prostitutes
- Encouraging a person to become or remain a prostitute
California categorizes pimping and pandering as felonies with a possible incarceration term of up to six years in state prison.
PC 314 Indecent Exposure
California Penal Code 314 prohibits exposing your genitals in public to direct public attention to your genitals. The offense is a misdemeanor with a jail sentence of up to six months.
PC 647 (a) Lewd Conduct in Public
Lewd conduct involves touching the genitalia, female breasts, or buttocks intending to achieve sexual gratification. When done in public, it can lead to charges of lewd conduct in public.
PC 653.22 Loitering to Prostitute
California penal code 653.22 prohibits loitering in a public place with the specific intention to prostitute. The offense is a misdemeanor whose penalties include up to $1000 in fines and six months in jail.
PC 653.23 Supervising or Aiding a Prostitute
Supervising or aiding a prostitute is the crime of helping another person commit prostitution or solicitation. It can include activities such as offering transportation to a friend who wants to prostitute or solicit a prostitute or finding clients for another person to prostitute.
The offense is a misdemeanor with a county jail sentence of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.
PC 261 Rape
While prostitution is illegal in California, the prostitute has the right to consent or decline a sexual act at any time. This means that you will be guilty of rape if you refuse to stop a sexual act upon the prostitute's request.
If the prostitute is a minor, you will be guilty under California’s statutory rape laws, stating that minors cannot consent to sexual activities.
Rape is a felony with a state prison sentence of up to 8 years and 13 years if the victim is a minor.
Find a Prostitution and Solicitation Defense Attorney Near Me
The shame, fear, and uncertainty you experience when arrested or charged with prostitution and solicitation in California can be overwhelming.
And while you could be worried about what people might think or say, the most important thing right now is to hire a defense attorney. An attorney has a legal background, skill, and expertise in matters related to prostitution and solicitation.
Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm offers compassionate, reliable, and non-judgmental defense if you or a loved one is facing charges for prostitution or solicitation. We work to get the best results for our clients through intensive legal research, pretrial negotiations, and unmatched defense during the trial with our industry experience.
Call us today at 714-740-7848 for your free consultation if you or a loved one is facing charges.