Prostitutes and those that solicit their services – typically male buyers – are not unique to Houston. However, areas of the city are known to have a pervasive number of sex workers compared to most parts of the country. Viewed as a dangerous nuisance by many in city government, sex workers have faced countless efforts from police to rein them in.
In many cases, innocent people are swept up in these wide swath efforts. This is dangerous, as the consequences of a conviction for a person wrongly accused of solicitation of a prostitute is significant due to police tactics. In addition to serious statutory penalties, those arrested for solicitation also face serious and embarrassing complications in their personal life.
Wrongly charged or not, anyone arrested for solicitation in Houston is entitled to a strong defense. Attorney Doug Murphy is an experienced attorney that is prepared to serve as your advocate. Call today to discuss your case in person.
Houston Police Crack Down on Male Buyers in Solicitation Cases
Male buyers come from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. They are white and black, old and young, rich and poor. The primary thing they have in common is loneliness and the want to fill that void. In the police effort to limit prostitution in Houston, however, prosecutors and law enforcement have taken steps to prosecute men who may only be seeking companionship and not prostitution. In years past, those arrested for prostitution were far more likely to spend time behind bars compared to those charged with solicitation.
The police are approaching the issue of solicitation from multiple angles. This involves a more aggressive police presence, less leniency from the prosecutor's office, and even an unconventional attempt to shut down the “the Track,” the nickname for the part of Houston best known for prostitution arrests.
Limiting Use of Pre-Trial Diversion
Despite an effort by police to ramp up arrests for solicitation starting in 2017, many of the men caught up in that sweep saw their cases dismissed. This was done in large part through the use of Harris County's pre-trial diversion program. Through this program, men that were charged with solicitation were given the opportunity to have their cases dismissed if they met certain conditions and avoided additional arrests. In 2018, more than 70 percent of the defendants in these cases had the charges against them dismissed or were in the process of being dismissed.
The diversion program typically takes between six months and one year to complete and is used by more than half of all people arrested for solicitation.
This statistic has begun to change. Citing the inequity between the penalties handed down for prostitution compared to the likelihood of a person seeing their solicitation charges dismissed, prosecutors are cutting back on their use of diversion in solicitation cases. Starting in August of 2018, the district attorney in Houston has stopped offering diversion in solicitation cases to male buyers.
Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone in Houston, TX to Deter Male Buyers
The reputation of “the Track” – a small stretch of Bissonnet Street in Houston – was so poor that the City of Houston is going to extreme lengths to prevent prostitution there. In August of 2018, the Mayor of Houston announced the creation of the Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone.
This zone covers roughly half of a square mile surrounding Bissonnet Street. In addition to extensive police efforts to cut down on prostitution in this area, the city has attempted to go even further by taking action against specific individuals.
This unprecedented plan was immediately tied up in legal battles and has yet to take effect. However, the nature of the plan is far different from the approach taken by most cities.
The unusual plan involved the city filing a civil lawsuit against 86 individuals, with the goal of obtaining an injunction preventing them from certain activities within the Bissonnet Anti-Prostitution Zone. These individuals involve people with a criminal history related to sex work in the area. While 50 of the individuals had previously been convicted of prostitution, the rest were a mix of alleged pimps and johns.
According to the city's lawsuit, the injunction being sought would prevent these 86 specific people from taking a wide range of activities while within the Zone. This could include acts like waiving at traffic or sitting at a bus stop – actions that are not inherently illegal. The idea is simple: cut the supply and add a layer of serious penalties in the hopes of stifling the demand for prostitutes by male buyers.
If found to be in violation of this ordinance, a person could be subject to a fine up between $1,000 and $10,000 as well as a maximum jail sentence of up to 30 days. To date, this injunction is still on hold as it works its way through the courts. However, it is an indication of how aggressively the City of Houston is prepared to go after sex workers and those who solicit them.
Sting Operations in the Houston Metropolitan Area to Arrest Male Buyers
A common tactic for police in attempting to prevent solicitation of a prostitute is through so-called “sting” operations. These are carefully planned efforts typically executed by multiple law enforcement agencies. In these cases, police pose as prostitutes offering their services in the hope of ensnaring potential johns. When a target makes contact and attempts to pay money for sex, police swoop in and make the arrest.
Sting operations can be problematic for police for several reasons. They are typically large operations intended to target as many suspects as possible. The end result is often that an innocent person is swept up in these efforts due to careless police work or bad luck.
There are other problems with sting operations. In many cases, the police can trick or cajole a person into committing a crime they would not have otherwise done. In some situations, the accused could feel as though their safety is at risk if they fail to comply. This is known as entrapment.
If an experienced criminal defense attorney can show that the police used force, fear, or trickery to make a defendant commit solicitation, they could see the case dismissed by the prosecutor. Should the case go to trial, a jury could rule in favor of the defendant if it concludes that entrapment occurred.
What Prosecutors Must Prove for a Solicitation Conviction in Houston, TX
Regardless of the efforts taken by the police and prosecutors, the fact remains that a defendant must be convicted of a crime to face the statutory penalties that come with it. A conviction is never guaranteed in these cases, and many solicitation arrests ultimately end in an acquittal.
There are three important elements needed to prove a solicitation case, and an acquittal is required if the state fails to prove even one of them. These elements include:
- The accused knew the person they were speaking with was a prostitute or potential client;
- The accused asked for sex or a fee in exchange for a fee or sex; and
- The proceedings occurred in a public place.
In other words, a conviction for solicitation does not require a sex act. It does not require the exchange of money. What it does require is intent. A person must not only intend to trade something of value in exchange for sex, but they must also do so knowing they are speaking with a potential prostitute.
Often, the evidence in these cases is shoddy at best. These arrests often result from sting operations where dozens of suspects were arrested over the course of several hours. Other cases occur when a large number of people are swept up in raids of massage parlors. The end result is often a prosecution with little to no direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
When attorney Doug Murphy takes on a solicitation case, he carefully reviews all of the evidence collected by the police. Depending on the nature of the evidence, Murphy will develop a defense strategy appropriate for each case. Many times, it is clear that the foundation of a case is shaky and that a trial will likely result in an acquittal.
Penalties for Solicitation in Houston, TX
One reason why a strong defense is so important in a solicitation case is the potential penalties that come with a conviction. These penalties are much steeper than other jurisdictions and can have lasting consequences for anyone involved.
Typically, solicitation is a misdemeanor. However, a third or subsequent offense can result in a state jail felony that carries up to two years in state prison. Solicitation is a felony if the person targeted is under the age of 18. In that situation, it is a second-degree felony that carries up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This charge is possible regardless of whether the defendant knew the other person was underage or not.
In addition to the statutory penalties, a solicitation conviction can lead to serious difficulties in your personal life. It can harm business relationships and friendships. It can also result in difficulty in obtaining employment or finding suitable housing.
How a Houston Solicitation Attorney Could Help
Understanding the lengths Houston Police will go to in an effort to stem prostitution and solicitation is important. It can provide insight into what to expect from the government should you face an arrest for solicitation.
Attorney Doug Murphy understands what is at stake in these cases and will work tirelessly to provide the strongest defense possible. Solicitations can be won, but your best bet is to work with experienced legal counsel. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. to discuss how a Board Certified expert in criminal defense law can help your case.