Prostitution is against the law in most states, and Texas is no different. While it is a relatively low-level offense, the City of Houston has recently taken an aggressive stance against prostitution activity within the city. The Houston Police and county prosecutors have stepped up their efforts in recent years, expending substantial resources in an effort to reduce these offenses.
In some cases, these efforts are so aggressive they sweep up innocent people along with the guilty. In extreme instances, law enforcement has been known to convince a person to commit a criminal sexual act that they otherwise would not have taken part in. Below, we discuss the tactics that police and prosecutors use in their efforts to eliminate prostitution in Houston.
Despite the City's renewed efforts to tackle prostitution, the reality is that these cases are defensible at trial. The burden of proving a person's intent can be challenging in a prostitution case, and the right defense counsel could highlight that the government has little in the way of evidence. If you face prostitution charges in Houston, contact defense attorney Doug Murphy right away.
Dedicated Vice Units in Houston
While any police officer could be involved in a prostitution arrest, Houston Police have an entire department dedicated to these and similar offenses. This unit is known as the Vice Division. In addition to taking on allegations of human trafficking, illegal gambling, and alcohol code violations, the Vice Division aggressively pursues prostitution arrests.
The methods used by the Vice Division are extensive. They make use of confidential informants and anonymous tips to identify those engaged in prostitution. The City of Houston expends substantial resources on this division, which spends a large amount of time on surveillance and investigation. These surveillance efforts include constant patrols through parts of the city known for prostitution, as well as the use of undercover officers intermingling with sex workers and those that seek them.
While prostitution is only a part of what the Vice Division handles, it is a major part of their official duties. Not only does the Vice Division pursue criminal prostitution cases, they also initiate civil nuisance injunctions against businesses and individuals alike.
The police are not the only entity that has stepped up their efforts in prostitution cases. County prosecutors have also publicly increased their efforts against both prostitutes and those that solicit them. This includes plans from the prosecutor's office to limit the amount of deferred guilty pleas the office will agree to in these cases. Seeking jail time for prostitution cases has also become more common.
When it comes to law enforcement efforts to prevent prostitution, there is no question that so-called “sting” operations allow police to make a large number of arrests in a small amount of time.
Sting operations involve law enforcement impersonating prostitutes or potential customers in an effort to secure an arrest. Often, these sting operations are massive efforts executed by dozens of officers. In many cases, multiple city, county, and state agencies will work together in these efforts.
A sting operation typically targets either prostitutes or those seeking to solicit them. Police efforts to target prostitutes involve police officers acting as “johns” on the hunt for a prostitute. Traditionally, these operations involve an undercover officer entering an area known for prostitution activity. When the officer is approached regarding a potential transaction, they will typically go along with the transaction until they reach an agreement and the target makes a substantial step toward completing it.
In modern times, it has become more common for the initiation of these transactions to occur online. The anonymity that comes with using the internet has led to a major shift in the nature of prostitution crimes. Many of these instances originate from online forums dedicated to underground escort services, for example. In a sting operation, a police officer will make contact online posing as a potential customer. This interaction in and of itself is not enough to violate prostitution laws. That is why police will typically set up an in-person meeting in an effort to catch the prostitute in the act.
These sting operations involve more than a single officer making an arrest, however. These stings commonly involve a large number of officers nearby, ready to make an arrest when possible. These operations rarely target a single person. In most cases, law enforcement will attempt to ensnare as many people as possible over the course of hours or even days.
When Sting Operations Become Entrapment
Sting operations might lead to a large number of arrests, but they can also present some serious problems for the prosecution. Foremost among those issues is the potential for an entrapment defense.
Entrapment occurs when a person is encouraged or coerced into committing a crime they otherwise would not have committed. If the police threaten or pressure a person to commit the offense of prostitution when they would not have done so otherwise, the accused could win an acquittal at trial using the entrapment defense.
Ultimately, the availability of an entrapment defense boils down to a single issue: did the officer provide you with an opportunity to commit a crime, or did they coerce you into doing so? If the police provided an opportunity to commit a crime and you took it, an entrapment defense is unlikely to work out in your favor. But if the officers used threats, trickery, or coercion to push you into something you would not have otherwise done, entrapment could be a viable defense.
The success of an entrapment defense will depend in part on what a jury would consider to be coercion. If a reasonable person would feel pressured or threatened to commit the crime, an acquittal could be possible. Attorney Doug Murphy understands when an entrapment defense is viable or not. To discover if it might be appropriate in your case, schedule a free consultation as soon as possible.
Law enforcement in Houston is making additional efforts to curb prostitution outside of aggressive policing and prostitution. These efforts include taking civil action through a process known as nuisance abatement. The ultimate goal of these lawsuits is to hamper prostitution and provide grounds to jail those believed to be involved without the need to obtain a conviction for prostitution.
This effort relies on the use of Texas statute to close down privately owned property used for the purposes of prostitution or other illegal activity. Typically, these laws were used to shut down illegal brothels. However, the City of Houston has taken steps to go even further by declaring a “No-Prostitution Zone” in an area of the city infamous for sex work.
This zone covers an area of Houston known as “The Track.” An infamous hub for prostitutes and pimps, police have aggressively pursued prostitution arrests in this part of the city with little effect. Despite these efforts, there were reports of nearly 4,000 crimes filed with the police during a two-year span from 2016 through 2018. One out of four of these reported crimes was related to prostitution.
The City's newest approach is unique – and potentially illegal. The City of Houston has identified 86 people with prior prostitution-related convictions in an effort to obtain a civil injunction against them. This injunction would prevent these people from engaging in any behavior within the Zone that could be construed as involvement in prostitution. This could include waving down passing cars, walking the street, or loitering in front of shops.
Unlawful Use of Nuisance Statutes
To date, enforcement of the “No-Prostitution Zone” is in limbo as the case works its way through the courts. There are serious questions about the legality of these efforts, which says nothing of the likelihood that they will have the desired impact.
Questions remain if these targeted efforts violate the civil rights of those involved. There are also questions of whether this effort might actually reduce prostitution or simply shift it to a different neighborhood.
How a Houston Prostitution Defense Attorney Can Help
There is no question that Houston has taken an aggressive stance towards prostitution. Arguably, their approach is more aggressive than most cities throughout the country. While their efforts have not led to a decrease in prostitution or put an end to human trafficking, it has led to far more wrongful arrests and prosecutions.
If you are facing charges of prostitution in Houston, you do not have to face them on your own. In many cases, the evidence collected by law enforcement in a prostitution case will be weak or inconclusive. Officers will frequently bluff regarding the strength of their case in an effort to push the accused into pleading guilty.
If you are ready to fight back against the charges against you, attorney Doug Murphy might be able to help. A dedicated trial lawyer, Doug Murphy has earned a reputation as a fearless advocate for the accused. He is a Board Certified expert in criminal defense law, which is a distinction only a small percentage of Houston attorneys hold.
Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. right away to learn about your defense options.