There are reports lately of people being cited and released by the Houston Police Department and other agencies for prostitution. Historically, if you were arrested for prostitution as a result of a sting you would be arrested and processed immediately. This meant that you would be taken to jail and appear before a magistrate who would set your bond and your court date.
Based on the types of phone calls our law firm has been getting, it appears that there are multiple stings going on in the Houston area where defendants aren’t being arrested on the spot. These prostitution stings take many forms. One common sting targets websites where prostitutes are known to offer their services. The police take out ads on these websites and attempt to engage men in text exchanges and eventually, lure them to a hotel. When the unsuspecting “john” shows up, he is arrested. Similar stings are known to take place at spas (sometimes targeting johns, sometimes targeting prostitutes), areas of town known to be common areas where prostitutes ply their trade (like the infamous stretch along Bissonnett avenue in Houston), and strip clubs.
In order to prove a prostitution case, the District Attorney’s office needs to show that there was an agreement to exchange sex for money. This is why it is usually necessary for one of the parties to the agreement to be a law enforcement officer, equipped with a recording device to have proof that such an agreement was entered into.
When a suspect is arrested, the police can cite and release the person and later file prostitution charges. When this happens, the suspect will have a warrant put out for their arrest. If this has happened to you, it is unlikely that the police will expend much effort in apprehending you (it is very unlikely they will show up with at your home or work looking for you). Instead, you will probably learn there is an open warrant for your arrest based on the types of mail you are receiving from lawyers or bonding companies offering to help (you may also be receiving text messages from unscrupulous lawyers, possibly in violation of the State Bar rules on advertising). If you have been released after a prostitution investigation, an experienced criminal defense attorney can also monitor the District Clerk’s website for you to see if a warrant appears under your name.
There is no clear timeline of how long it might take for the police to file charges. Based on the time it is currently taking charges to be filed against defendants in similar situations, it could be several weeks or even months. It is possible that the District Attorney’s Office is holding off on filing charges to announce dozens of prostitution arrests at once in order to pat themselves on the back and publicize their enforcement of prostitution laws. On the other hand, it is also possible that charges will never be filed. Although the statute of limitations for a felony prostitution arrest is 3 years, in general, the more time goes by, the less likely you are to be charged.
If you learn that you have an open prostitution warrant against you, do not panic. The first thing you will want to do is take care of the warrant. Traditionally, if you have an open warrant, your only option was to turn yourself in to the jail of the county your case is filed in, wait around to have bond set by a magistrate, post bond and be released.
In the Houston area, however, many judges will allow “walk-through” arrests for prostitution cases. Ideally, with a walk-through arrest, you go to court when the judge is on the bench, accompanied by a representative from a bail bondsman, and ask the judge to set bond in court. Then, rather than taking you into custody, the judge would permit you to leave court with the bail bondsman and post bond. The main advantage of walk-through arrest is that you are not taken into custody (which is especially important if you have immigration issues and do not want to risk having an immigration detention on your prostitution case while you are in jail). Unfortunately, many judges do not permit “walk though” arrests. A criminal defense attorney who is experienced with court policies in the Houston area should be able to tell you if the court your case is assigned to permits walk-through arrests or not. If a walk-through arrest is not an option for you, it is a good idea to turn yourself in when the jail is less busy, and you are more likely to get processed out of jail more quickly.
Whether you do a walk-through arrest or not, the next step will be fighting your case and doing everything possible to obtain a dismissal. Although first-time prostitution cases (for johns) became a felony in September 2021, the early indications are that District Attorney’s Offices in the Greater Houston area are being reasonable in their prosecution of prostitution arrests. This means that even if the case against you is strong (and this is something that should never be taken for granted), there are still options to keep a prostitution conviction off of your record, such as pre-trial intervention. An attorney experienced with prostitution cases should not only have a plan “A,” but also a plan “B” and “C.” If you’ve been cited or arrested for prostitution, our office would be happy to discuss your situation with you free of charge.