Woman being arrested by officer

What happens if you are arrested during a prostitution sting?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Law enforcement in the Greater Houston area regularly operate “sting” operations to catch those suspected of engaging in prostitution. Most sting operations focus on arresting the alleged buyers of sex (also known as “johns”). If you have been caught in a prostitution sting and have been accused of attempting to purchase sex, it is common to feel high levels of anxiety over the uncertainty of what will happen to your case and what the chances are of keeping the arrest off of your record. 

Law enforcement stings targeting the buyers of sex take several forms. The most common stings target websites known for prostitution, stings using an undercover “street walker,” and stings at strip clubs. In all of these scenarios, a female police officer will pose as a prostitute and attempt to convince the alleged buyer of sex to make an agreement to exchange some sexual act for money (the prostitution statute does not require that any sexual act actually be completed). Texas has some of the most severe penalties in the nation for the alleged buyer of sex. For the purchaser of sex, a prostitution arrest is a State Jail Felony, punishable by 180 days to 2 years in State Jail, and a $10,0000 fine.  

Typically, as soon as there is an agreement to exchange money for some sexual act, the person accused of attempting to purchase sex will be detained by law enforcement. In most cases, the defendant will be taken to jail and have to wait there until a bond amount is set. But sometimes, law enforcement in the Houston area will release a prostitution suspect at the scene (after taking a photograph and verifying their identity) and issue an arrest warrant at a later date. Typically, this is done when a law enforcement team is focusing its resources on continuing a sting operation. If a defendant is released, he will have to post bond at a later date, once the warrant for prostitution is issued. There is not set timeline for when the warrant will be issued, but in the Houston area, a warrant as a result of a prostitution case can take a month or more to be issued. 

Whether a prostitution defendant is released at the scene, or has a warrant issued at some later date, eventually the defendant will appear in court. The first court date is usually not a significant event and is mainly an opportunity for the judge to review a defendant’s bond conditions, and for the criminal defense attorney to begin the process of gathering evidence in the case. In a prostitution case, the evidence typically consists of a police report, video and/or audio of the alleged agreement, texts between the undercover officer and the defendant, and an advertisement of the post on the website offering sex (if the case involves a sting involving a website). In order to properly evaluate a case – and challenge the allegations of law enforcement that there was an agreement to exchange money for sex – it is necessary for a criminal defense attorney to obtain and review all of the evidence. 

The process of gathering evidence in a prostitution case will take many months and during that time, a defendant will have to periodically appear in court. At the early court dates, a defendant will typically not have to do or say anything. In fact, a defendant in a prostitution case will have very little interaction with the court unless he is accused of violating his bond conditions (it is very important that all bond conditions in a prostitution case are obeyed). 

A prostitution case will be resolved in one of three ways: dismissal, trial or plea agreement. A dismissal is the best result and the goal of most criminal defense attorneys. Prostitution cases are dismissed where a criminal defense lawyer can prove that the evidence is weak or unclear (for example, if the alleged agreement to exchange money for sex is vague, or there is a language barrier between the officer and the defendant), where evidence is missing, or where the prosecutor offers a dismissal through a pre-trial intervention. 

If a case isn’t dismissed, a defendant will have to choose whether or not to accept a plea agreement. In the Houston area, most first-time prostitution defendants will be offered a deferred adjudication probation. In a prostitution case, a deferred adjudication probation is a type of probation that will not leave a “final” conviction on a defendant’s record, if the probation is completed successfully. In most instances, a defendant would be eligible to have records of the prostitution arrest sealed if the probation is completed successfully. However, getting records of a prostitution arrest sealed, does not prevent the government from accessing the records and there is a waiting period after the probation is complete before a defendant can be eligible to have his records sealed. As a result, a deferred adjudication is not a great option for many defendants. 

The final way to resolve a prostitution case is through a trial. If a case isn’t dismissed, and an acceptable plea agreement cannot be reached, a defendant should consider a trial. Trials in prostitution cases are relatively rare in the Houston area, but a trial might be the right choice if the evidence against a defendant is weak (again, if the agreement is vague or there are legal problems with the case), or if the plea agreement that is offered is not attractive or is essentially what a defendant would expect to receive even if a trial is lost. Because a prostitution case for the buyer is a felony, a trial would be in front of 12 jurors who would decide whether the defendant is guilty of prostitution. 

This is a general overview of what a defendant can expect in a first-time prostitution case. If you have been arrested for prostitution in the Greater Houston area, it is very likely that you have other questions and concerns. Ceja Law Firm regularly defends prostitution cases in Harris County, Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Brazoria County, Galveston County and Waller County. To discuss your case in greater detail, contact Ceja Law Firm for a free consultation. 

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.