Woman in handcuffs

Is it possible to get a first-time prostitution case dismissed in Houston?

Every week in Harris County dozens of people are charged with prostitution. The potential penalties for a first-time prostitution arrest vary in Texas depending on whether the alleged buyer or seller of sex is arrested. But regardless of the potential penalties, it is important to do whatever you can to keep a prostitution arrest off of your record. The good news is that it is possible to get a first-time prostitution case dismissed and off of your record if you have been charged in Houston.  

Under Texas Penal Code 43.02, a person who is accused for the first time of knowingly agreeing or offering to receive a payment to engage in sexual conduct will be charged with a Class “B” misdemeanor. Under Texas Penal Code 43.021, the alleged buyer of sex – also known as the john – will be charged with a State Jail Felony for a first-time prostitution arrest. 

Whether you are charged as an alleged buyer or seller, the strategy a criminal defense lawyer should employ will be the same. The first step in defending a prostitution charge – just like any other criminal case – is to obtain the evidence. A criminal defense attorney needs to challenge every element of the State’s case. In most prostitution cases, the critical element is whether or not there was a knowing agreement to exchange sex for money. In Texas, the offense of prostitution does not require that a sexual act actually be completed or engaged in. The offense is complete when there is a knowing agreement to exchange money for sex. 

In a surprising amount of prostitution cases, a knowing agreement may be lacking due to a language barrier or the agreement may be vague and only form the basis of a charge due to law enforcement jumping to conclusions. Our law firm recently defended an alleged prostitute who was arrested after a sting operation at a strip club. This client was wrongfully arrested and understandably did not wish to accept any type of plea. The recording in the case was totally inaudible due to the loud strip club music, and the conversation with undercover law enforcement was general in nature and only allegedly involved her stating what sexual acts she was aware took place in the VIP room (not that she was offering her services in particular). This case was dismissed on the night before trial. 

While lack of a knowing agreement is the most common defense, it is also possible that other defenses could be raised in a prostitution case. On occasion, the defense of entrapment could be used. Under Texas law, entrapment means that a defendant was not disposed to commit an offense and only did so at the urging of an undercover police officer. 

Of course, in order to be able to challenge the evidence in a prostitution case, it is first necessary to obtain complete evidence. Almost all prostitution cases filed in Houston are the result of police sting operations. When an agency like the Houston Police Department conducts a sting, they will attempt to audio and sometimes video record the conversation containing an alleged agreement to exchange money for sex. Additionally, the officers involved in the investigation will write offense reports, which a defense attorney can use to expose poor police work and officer bias.

Only the prosecutor can dismiss a prostitution case and the reality is that not every prostitution case will be dismissed because of weak evidence.  If your prostitution case is not dismissed due to problems with the facts of the case, then you will have to choose between a trial, or another resolution such as a plea agreement or a pre-trial intervention. 

In Houston, many first-time prostitution defendants will be eligible for a program known as pre-trial intervention. For prostitution cases, these programs vary depending on whether the defendant is alleged to have been the prostitute or the john. But in either case, if a defendant successfully completes pre-trial intervention, the case will be dismissed.  

Obtaining a dismissal of a prostitution case due to problems with the facts is usually the best outcome as it guarantees that you will be able to keep the charge off of your record without the risk of a trial, or the trouble of going through a pre-trial intervention program. However, if your case is not dismissed a pre-trial intervention program can be a good “plan b” to keeping a prostitution arrest off of your record. 

If your first-time prostitution case is not dismissed because of a factual issue, and you are not offered, or do not wish to complete a pre-trial intervention program, then you might consider going to trial. In Houston, trials in prostitution cases are relatively rare because most cases are dismissed before trial for one reason or another. Moreover, most prosecutors do not want to take prostitution cases to trial since most jurors think that it is a waste of police resources to enforce prostitution laws (many operations at strip clubs, for example, involve 10 or more police officers, typically to arrest two or three strippers). 

If your case is dismissed because of a factual issue with the case, then you would be eligible to have records of the offense destroyed (which is known in Texas as an expunction). This is the best result in a criminal case and is always the ultimate goal in a prostitution case. Ceja Law Firm regularly obtains dismissals and expunctions for clients charged with prostitution throughout the Greater Houston area. If you are charged with prostitution, call Ceja Law Firm today.