Apparently, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department didn’t get the memo. Because, while the D.C. Council considers a measure that would legalize prostitution in the District of Columbia, MPD’s prostitution sting operations are continuing at full throttle. Once again, arrests for solicitation of prostitution appear to be up in D.C. This, despite the fact that D.C. Councilmember David Grosso recently introduced a bill that would decriminalize prostitution in the city.
According to Grosso, “We basically criminalize too many activities.” It is time for the District of Columbia to reconsider the framework in which we handle commercial sex work, and move from one of criminalization to a focus on human rights, health, and safety.” While there is no indication as to how much support the bill would have in the council, if enacted, it would repeal several laws that criminalize consensual sex between adults. According to Grosso, “[b]y removing criminal penalties for those in the sex trade, we can bring people out of the shadows, help them lead safer and healthier lives, and more easily tackle the complaints we hear from communities about trash or other nuisances.”
Councilman Grosso’s sentiment is clearly not shared by MPD, who has shown no indication that they will ease up on prostitution operations anytime soon. And as I’ve indicated previously, these operations appear to fall disproportionately on Uber and Cabbies who drive the streets of our fair cities. There may be several reasons for MPD’s continued zealous pursuit of prostitution-related offenders, but one can’t help but wonder if it simply has to do with the fact that these operations target low-hanging fruit, and result in easy prosecutions. You see, while all regular police officers all wear body camera that they are required to activate during encounters with civilians, prostitution stings are conducted primarily by undercover officers. That means that the encounter between the officer and the defendant is never recorded. And when there is no recording of the exchange for which the defendant is arrested and prosecuted, that means that solicitation of prostitution trials come down to he said she said. But the “she” in this equation is a law enforcement officer, and the “he” is simply a guy off the street. In order to win a trial, I usually have to ask the judge to find that the MPD undercover officer is not credible—something that not all judges appear willing to do. And don’t think that MPD doesn’t know that.
Councilman Grosso’s bill may go nowhere in the council, and we will continue with business as usual. If that’s the case, MPD will continue to shoot the proverbial fish in a barrel, and rack up the prostitution arrests. Of course, that doesn’t always mean that they will rack up the convictions. There are possible defenses that don’t ask a judge to find that the MPD officer is lying. In addition, first-time offenders may be offered an opportunity to avoid conviction through diversion. While prostitution is still illegal in the District, criminal defense lawyers need to continue to find creative ways to fight these cases. If you’ve been arrested for a prostitution-related offense in Washington, D.C. contact Jay Mykytiuk Trial Attorney for a case evaluation.