The first thing that comes to mind when we think about prostitution as a criminal offense is engaging in sexual acts for compensation. However, California’s Penal Code 647(b) also criminalizes a second form of prostitution: soliciting prostitution, which is when someone (the customer, also referred to as the “john”) offers another person compensation for performing sexual acts or when someone agrees to perform sexual acts for compensation.
If you have been charged with solicitation of a prostitute or prostitution-related offenses in California, you may be facing fines, probation, and even incarceration if convicted. Only an experienced and dedicated defense attorney can examine the circumstances of your case and the state’s evidence in order to find your most favorable outcome, which could include a reduction or dismissal of your charges.
What does “solicitation” mean?
It is a crime to solicit another person to commit certain other offenses. In California, Penal Code 653f PC makes it so that someone is guilty if solicitation if they: (1) request that someone else commit one of the crimes included in California’s criminal solicitation law (2) they intend for the other person to commit the crime (3) the person being solicited to commit the crime receives the communication of the solicitation (they are aware of the request).
It is important to note that, in California, not all crimes are covered by Penal Code 653f PC. This includes solicitation of lewd conduct and solicitation of prostitution.
In the case of prostitution, the word solicitation means the same thing in the sense that someone is requesting that someone else commit a crime (prostitution). However, laws involving prostitution are covered under a different penal code than other solicitation laws, Penal Code 647 (b). This means that the penalties for solicitation of a prostitute may differ from the penalties imposed for other forms of solicitation.
Prostitution and Solicitation Laws in California
A prostitute is someone who engages in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with another person in exchange for money or another form of compensation. California’s prostitution laws fall under Penal Code 647(b) PC. California’s prostitution law is based on three basic violations:
- Engaging in prostitution
- Agreeing to engage in prostitution
- Soliciting prostitution
Engaging in Prostitution
To be convicted of engaging in prostitution, you must be found guilty of:
- willfully (deliberately) engaging in sexual intercourse or a lewd act in exchange for money or some other form of compensation.
A “lewd” act is an act that is committed with the intention of sexually arousing oneself or another person and which involves the touching of the genitals, buttocks, or female breast.
Agreeing to engage in prostitution
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Agreeing to engage in prostitution is a fairly recent amendment to Penal Code 647(b). Prior to 1986, the code only penalized engaging in prostitution and soliciting prostitution. The addition of the charge of agreeing to engage in prostitution made it more difficult for prostitutes to escape charges, as some had previously done, by only agreeing to the solicitation of the “john.” What makes this charge different from soliciting prostitution is the agreement to engage in prostitution. If person 1 proposes or offers to engage in prostitution, they may be charged with solicitation. If person 2 accepts the offer, then they may be charged with agreeing to engage in prostitution.
To be convicted of agreeing to engage in prostitution, you must be found guilty of:
- Agreeing to engage in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with another person in exchange for money or some other form of compensation
- Agreeing to engage in prostitution with the specific intent to do so
- An act of furtherance of prostitution such as giving, receiving, or procuring money for payment (for example, making a withdrawal from an ATM), or traveling to an agreed upon location to engage in prostitution. The possession certain items such as condoms or a “client book,” may be used to further a case against you but are not sufficient evidence on their own to prove that you are guilty of a prostitution offense.
Because the act of furtherance of prostitution is what makes this charge different from a solicitation charge, it is essential that the prosecutor can prove an act of furtherance in order to make a conviction. You may be able to have charges of agreeing to engage in prostitution dismissed if the act of furtherance is not clearly stated in the written complaint.
To solicit a prostitute is to request that someone engage in intercourse or a lewd act in exchange for compensation.
To be convicted of soliciting prostitution, you must be found guilty of:
- Soliciting another person to engage in sexual intercourse or a lewd act in exchange for money or some other form of compensation
- Intending to engage in prostitution following the solicitation.
The specific intent to engage in prostitution is necessary to secure a conviction of solicitation. Evidence that can be used to prove intent may be an offer to exchange money or other compensation, such as drugs for intercourse or lewd acts. Having to prove specific intent to engage in prostitution makes it so that a person cannot be convicted of solicitation for things like wearing certain attire or standing in a location that has been known for prostitution.
Either a “john” or a prostitute can be charged with solicitation, depending on who initiated the interaction or proposed the engagement.
Penalties for Solicitation of a Prostitute
In California, prostitution, solicitation, and agreeing to engage in prostitution are misdemeanor offenses. The possible penalties that you may face if you are convicted are:
- Jail time of up to 6 months
- Fines up to $1,000
- Additional jail time if you are a repeat offender
You may face additional penalties depending on the specific circumstances of your case. For example, if you are caught committing a prostitution offense while in your vehicle, you may be required to forfeit the vehicle. You may also have restrictions placed on your driver’s license if, in addition to taking place in a vehicle, the offense occurs within 1,000 feet of a residence.
Under Penal Code 647(b), being convicted of a prostitution offense does not automatically require you to register as a sex offender. However, though it is not especially common, it is possible that the judge could order you to register as a sex offender as part of your penalty, depending on the details of your case.
In addition to the possible fines and jail time, a prostitution conviction will have consequences in your personal and professional life and may result in lasting damage to your reputation. If you are facing charges of prostitution or solicitation, your best bet is to hire a criminal defense attorney who knows how to help you fight the charges and achieve your best possible outcome. An attorney will review the details of your case to decide what is the best defense strategy to help you to get your charges reduced or dismissed. Some possible defense strategies include:
- A mistake of fact of the circumstances surrounding the charge
- A lack of pertinent evidence to make a conviction
- Insufficient evidence to make a conviction
Having your charges reduced to a crime that is listed under a different penal code (a non prostitution-related offense) may allow you to avoid the damage to your personal and professional life and reputation that a prostitution conviction could create. The most common offenses that prostitution charges are reduced to are Disturbing the peace (Penal Code 415 PC) and Criminal Trespass (Penal Code 602 PC). Although future employers and other people you know may not understand the connection of these offenses to prostitution, law enforcement agencies are aware of these fact that these charges are often the result of reduced prostitution charges may interpret them that way when viewing your record.
Mistake of fact
A mistake of fact defense may help you have your charges dropped if you can show that the circumstances of the event that led to your charges do not demonstrate a specific intent to engage in prostitution. Take, for instance, the following example:
Terry responded to an advertisement for an escort service in order to hire someone to accompany him as a date to an event and did not have or express any specific intent to engage in sexual intercourse or lewd behavior with his date.
In this example the defendant, Terry, can use the mistake of fact defense to show that his reasons for responding to the advertisement have been mistaken as intent to engage in prostitution.
Lack of evidence
In order to secure a conviction under Penal Code 647(b), the prosecution must present enough reliable evidence to prove that you engaged in, agreed to engage in, or solicited prostitution. This defense strategy is often an effective on in cases of solicitation and agreeing to engage in prostitution, as there is often no recorded evidence of an incriminating conversation or encounter. Even in cases where an undercover cop plays the role of the prostitute or the “john,” they may not always record the conversations, which leads jurors to question the motives of the officer or simply does not provide enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a prostitution crime was committed.
Insufficient evidence encompasses a broad range of issues and circumstances. Although it sounds very similar to “lack of evidence,” insufficient evidence doesn’t mean that there isn’t enough evidence to prove a crime was committed, but that there isn’t clear and reliable evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a crime was committed. The following example presents a scenario where there may be insufficient evidence:
Ron was approached by a woman who proposed that they engage in sexual intercourse with no mention of exchanging money or any other compensation in return. After going with the woman to a second location where they planned to engage in sexual activity, the woman reveals herself to be an undercover police officer. Although the officer was wearing a wire and recorded the encounter, the recording does not clearly demonstrate an agreement to exchange money or anything else in exchange for intercourse or lewd behavior.
In this example, the evidence of the recording of the encounter is insufficient to prove that Ron intended to engage in prostitution. Ron may also have been unaware that the woman was acting as a prostitute, and the evidence is insufficient to prove otherwise.
Entrapment occurs when a police officer tricks someone into committing a crime or behaves in a way that results in someone committing a crime or doing something that they otherwise wouldn’t have. The officer may use threats, harassment, or even flattery. Because many prostitution arrests are made by undercover officers acting as prostitutes or “johns,” it is not uncommon for officers to use unfair tactics to get people to agree to engage in prostitution who wouldn’t under any other circumstances. If you have been convicted of prostitution or solicitation due to the aggressive action of a police officer, entrapment may be a very effective defense, particularly if you are an otherwise law-abiding citizen.
Other Related Offenses
Some other prostitution-related offenses include: (1) pimping and pandering, (2) supervising of aiding a prostitute, (3) lewd conduct in public, and (4) human trafficking. Some of these offenses, such as human trafficking, result in very serious penalties, if convicted. Others, such as supervising or aiding a prostitute, have lighter penalties and may be used as a plea bargain in the face of more the more serious offense of pimping and pandering. Lewd conduct in public is a charge that may appear in connection with other prostitution charges, such as solicitation.
Pimping and pandering
Pimping is defined as collecting any amount of a prostitute’s pay, and may include finding customers for a prostitute in exchange. Pimping is different from pandering, which does not require collecting pay from a prostitute, but may furnish clients for a prostitute. Pandering is to recruit or procure someone else as a prostitute. Both of these offenses may be charges in conjunction with other prostitution offenses, but are included under a different penal code than prostitution and solicitation.
Supervising or aiding a prostitute
Also related to pimping and pandering but markedly different, supervising or aiding a prostitute means knowingly helping someone else engage in prostitution. This crime is also under a different penal code than prostitution and solicitation (Penal Code 653.23), but applies to anyone who aids another person in prostitution or solicitation, including driving someone to a location where they plan to commit one of these offenses.
Lewd conduct in public
According to Penal Code 647(a) PC, lewd conduct in public is defined as the engagement in or soliciting of lewd behavior in a public place. It is common for this charge to be added to charges of prostitution or solicitation if the sexual activities of the transaction happen or are planned to happen in a public place; for example, if the prostitute and customer agree to meet in a public park.
Human trafficking involves pimping or pandering another person and using force, coercion, or otherwise depriving them of their liberties in order to do so. Pimping or pandering of a minor may also fall under human trafficking laws depending on the circumstances. In California, human trafficking is a very serious offense that carries major penalties.
Have you been charged with soliciting a prostitute in California?
If you or someone you know has been charged with a prostitution crime, it is important to secure legal defense for your case as soon as possible. As a California defense attorney with over 30 years of experience, I have the knowledge and experience to examine your case and develop a hard-hitting defense strategy that will help to get you the best possible outcome.
A prostitution charge on your criminal record can have lasting consequences in your personal and professional life, so don’t hesitate.