Avoiding an Online Prostitution Sting
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Benjamin Theule explains how police officers set up online prostitution stings to lure unsuspecting "johns" into a situation where they can be arrested for solicitation. Despite being known as the world's oldest profession, prostitution is thriving more than ever because of the Internet and websites like Craigslist and Backpage. Police officers know this and routinely setup online prostitution stings to try to crack down on this type of activity. You can be arrested for solicitation of prostitution even if you back out at the last minute if the cops believe you may have done an "act in furtherance of" prostitution.
(1) What is involved in a prostitution sting? What the cops are going to do is to go online and create an ad on backpage.com or other sites like Craigslist, where they'll post an ad in the escort section with seductive picture of a "hot" female saying - for instance - "Blonde Bombshell Looking For a Good Time. I've got what you need, give me a call." When a "john" calls, the police will be recording the call and will be gathering as much information as possible; talking about price, talking about sex acts, talking about meeting at a hotel.
Police officers will rent out a couple rooms at a local hotel and will have the John come to meet the girl (who is an undercover officer). The undercover officer will be wearing a wire to record the interaction. She'll try to confirm that the person is the same person she talked to on the phone, and that the meeting is about sex for money, in addition to gathering as much evidence as possible for the recording. Once they approach the room (typically as soon as they open the door), the other officers will arrest the individual.
(2) What happens if an individual backs out at the last minute? Sometimes individuals will get a bad feeling about the situation and will back out at the last minute, not going into the hotel room. A lot of officers may still make the arrest, saying just by going to or approaching the hotel room, that's an act in furtherance of prostitution, and that's enough to get a conviction.
(3) How do you defend against a solicitation charge? One of the most common defenses for prostitution or solicitation cases has to do with the intent involved. In order for the prosecution to prove that an act of prostitution or an act of solicitation was going on, they have to show that there was an intent to engage in sexual activity.
A lot of times during these stings, there's ambiguous language being used back and forth. Sometimes it's because of a language barrier between an individual and the police, or it could be because of the language being used by the cops. Sometimes they just hint at things hoping that a client will start talking "sex, money, right now." So that can open up legal defenses to employ.
Another defense that can sometimes be capitalized on is when an individual was simply messing around, with no real intent to commit an act of prostitution or solicitation; they see a girl who is very flirtatious, and they are seeing how far things can go with language, but there's no real intent to exchange money for sex.
If you have any questions or need a lawyer to help defending your rights in Southern California, don't hesitate to call Ben at (619) 236-9700.
This video provides information related to the following penal codes: penal code 647, penal code 647(b), penal code 266h, and penal code 266i.