The enforcement and prosecution of prostitution cases is in flux in Harris County and Texas. This is largely due to pressure to combat human trafficking associated with the sex industry that has led to disparate approaches on State and county levels. On the one hand, the penalties for prostitution have become more severe. Last year, Texas became the first State to make a first-time conviction for the purchase of sex a felony (this is an unfortunate example of the “get tough” on crime attitude that is all too common in Texas government). On the other hand, many cities, including Houston, have been emphasizing treatment and access to resources over criminalization and prosecution.
One example of the later approach is Harris County’s P180 program, which aims to connect sex workers charged with prostitution with social service resources available in Houston. The P180 is a form of pre-trial intervention available to many defendants charged with being the sellers of sex (the program is not available to johns). Pre-trial interventions are programs created by District Attorneys offices and are essentially contracts that a case will be dismissed if certain conditions are met. In the Greater Houston area, the P180 program is only available for prostitution arrests in Harris County.
The conditions of the P180 program are relatively easy to fulfill and involve a “forensic interview” with a Texas Forensic Nurse Examiner where the defendant will be asked about their life situation and conditions leading up to the prostitution arrest. Then the defendant will meet with an advocate (a type of social worker with special knowledge of prostitution cases) who will inform them of resources that are available in the community.
A defendant will also be required to sign a contract. As of November 2022, the contract used by the District Attorney for prostitution cases does not include an admission of guilt, which is particularly important if the defendant is not a United States citizen. Once the contract is signed and the forensic interview and meeting with the advocate are complete, then the case will be dismissed. Once the prostitution case is dismissed, the defendant would be eligible to for an expunction. In a prostitution case, an expunction is the best possible result as it leads to the permanent destruction of all records relating to the arrest and allows someone a fresh start.
This is the correct approach for dealing with prostitution cases, at least until the laws are changed on a State level. It is difficult to imagine how criminalizing prostitutes (or johns for that matter) and driving them further into the shadows is a benefit to anyone. Indeed, studies have found that legalization of prostitution actually lowers violence, exploitation and disease.
If you are charged with prostitution in Houston, it is always critical to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to handle your case. Although the P180 program may be a good option for many defendants, it is almost always preferable to obtain a dismissal without any conditions. In order to maximize your chances of getting your case dismissed outright, your attorney will need to obtain the evidence and challenge every piece of the evidence.
If you are accused of prostitution in Houston, attorney Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. He is a former prosecutor who has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law and has obtained dismissals in prostitution cases throughout the Greater Houston area. Call today for a free consultation.