woman arrested for a prostitution

What happens if you are charged with promotion of prostitution in Houston?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Prostitution is a regularly charged offense in the Greater Houston area. The penalties for prostitution in Texas are different depending on whether a person is alleged to have been a prostitute, buyer of sex (also known as the “john”), or a person who promotes prostitution. Among offenses relating to prostitution, a person charged with promotion of prostitution faces significantly steeper penalties than an alleged prostitute or buyer of sex. The offenses of promotion of prostitution and aggravated promotion of prostitution are designed to go after pimps or madams who financially benefit off of prostitutes, or people who run clubs or businesses where prostitutes are employed. 

Last week, for example, local media reported on a woman who was charged with promotion of prostitution for allegedly running a prostitution operation out of a massage parlor. The complaint in that case charged the woman with “unlawfully, while acting other than as a prostitute receiving compensation for personally rendered prostitution services, knowingly solicit M.A. to engage in sexual conduct with another person for compensation.” The woman was charged with a third-degree felony and had a bond set at $20,000. 

The elements of promotion of prostitution and aggravated promotion of prostitution are relatively straightforward. Under Texas Penal Code 43.03, a person commits the offense of promotion of prostitution if he or she knowingly receives money or other property as a part of an agreement to participate in the proceeds of prostitution, or solicits another to engage in sexual conduct with another person for compensation. Under Texas Penal Code 43.04 if a person knowingly owns, invests in, finances, controls, supervises or manages a prostitution enterprise that uses to or more prostitutes, a person could be charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution. 

Promotion of prostitution is typically charged as a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years in prison. If a defendant has a prior conviction for promotion of prostitution, a second case is punishable as a second-degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in prison. If it is alleged that a person charged with promotion of prostitution involving persons younger than 18 years old, promotion of prostitution can be charged as a first-degree felony, punishable by 5-99 years in prison. 

Typically, a person arrested for promotion of prostitution or aggravated promotion of prostitution is arrested after an undercover operation at a strip club, spa or sexually-oriented business. Although exact figures are not available, in the Houston area, arrests for promotion of prostitution are significantly less common than arrests for prostitution. In Houston, when a person is arrested in a prostitution sting, they are processed downtown and have to wait in jail until they have a bond set by a magistrate judge. Exact bond amounts can vary and it is possible for a criminal defense attorney to ask for a bond reduction in the event that bond is set high. 

If a person who is not a citizen of the United States is accused of promotion of prostitution, it is very important that the person’s family or friends try to bond the person out of jail as quickly as possible. When a non-citizen or undocumented person is charged with a serious felony, it is possible that they can have an immigration hold placed on them while they are in jail, in which case they would not be permitted to bond out of jail, even if the bond set by the judge is set. In the case linked to above, for example, the woman appears to have had an immigration hold placed on her at the Harris County jail, which means that unless the hold is lifted, she will remain in jail until her case is finished, at which time she will be transferred to a Federal immigration center. 

A promotion or aggravated promotion of prostitution case will typically take several months to resolve. The stakes are high and it is important that your attorney obtain all of the evidence. In most promotion of prostitution cases, the evidence consists of police reports, videos, audio recordings witness statements, and sometimes business documents or ledgers. 

Every promotion of prostitution case will end in either dismissal, trial or plea agreement. The goal is to obtain a dismissal of the case. However, if your case is not dismissed, then you will have to choose between a trial or a plea agreement. It is impossible to predict at the outset how your case will be resolved or what the best defense might be. 

In many promotion of prostitution cases, the best defense may be that the defendant did not knowingly enter into an agreement to participate in the proceeds of prostitution or, in the case of a charge of aggravated promotion of prostitution, knowingly participate in an enterprise involved in prostitution. It is important to remember that in prostitution cases, like all criminal cases, it is the burden of the prosecutor to prove that a person acted knowingly. For example, if the manager of a strip club is charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution because the strip club functions as a “prostitution enterprise,” prosecutors would have to show that the manager knowingly participated in or advanced the goals of that aspect of the business. 

In recent years, there has been increased political pressure to combat human trafficking that has led to stricter enforcement of prostitution and even changes to the law. In 2021, for example, Texas became the first state to make the purchase of sex a felony. In Houston, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has an entire division devoted to combating human trafficking (the division primarily handles prostitution cases). Consistent with these changes, many District Attorney’s Offices are taking a harder stance against defendants accused of promoting prostitution. For this reason, it is critical to consult with an experienced prostitution defense attorney if you are charged with promotion of prostitution. Ceja Law Firm regularly obtains excellent results in prostitution cases throughout the Greater Houston area. Call today to schedule 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.