What is prostitution in Texas?

In Texas, prostitution is defined as knowingly offering or agreeing to receive a payment to engage in sexual conduct. “Fee” is broadly defined to include “money, goods, services or other benefits.” It is not necessary for money or anything of value to actually pass hands for the offense of prostitution to be committed. The offense can be charged against an alleged prostitute, a buyer of sex (aka “john”), or a person who promotes or facilitates prostitution. 

What are the penalties for prostitution in Texas?

For the alleged prostitute, a first-time offense is a Class “B” misdemeanor. A second or third conviction is a Class “A” misdemeanor, and a third or more conviction is a State Jail Felony. 

For the buyer (also known as the “john”), a first offense solicitation or prostitution is charged as a State Jail Felony. If a buyer has a prior conviction, it will be charged as a third-degree felony. The offense can be a second-degree felony if the buyer attempted to buy sex from someone younger than 18 years old, or who was represented as younger than 18 years old. 

Why is first-time prostitution a felony for a buyer?

Due to political pressure to combat human trafficking, on September 1, 2021, it became a felony to purchase or attempt to purchase sex. Texas is the first state in the United States to make solicitation or prostitution a felony. The laws did not change for prostitutes. 

Should I speak to the police if I am arrested for prostitution?

Virtually all criminal defense attorneys agree that it is a bad idea to speak to the police. The general rule is that if the police have enough evidence to charge you with an offense like prostitution, there is nothing you can say to talk them out of it. If they lack evidence – like if the agreement to exchange money for sex was vague, for example – then by speaking to the police you risk giving them the evidence they lack.

Is it possible to get a prostitution case dismissed? 

Absolutely. An experienced criminal defense attorney can maximize your chances of getting your prostitution case dismissed. As with all criminal cases, the strategy is first to obtain all of the evidence. In most prostitution cases, this will consist of an offense report and often an audio or video recording of the alleged conversation containing an agreement to exchange something of value for a sexual service. 

What are some defenses to prostitution?

There are multiple defenses available to a prostitution arrest. The most common is that there was no agreement to purchase sex. Even though there is no requirement that anything of value actually change hands, the State must prove that there was a knowing agreement to exchange something of value for sex. In many cases, the agreement will be too vague to meet this requirement. 

Although it is not commonly raised, an entrapment defense could also be raised against a prostitution arrest. Under the Texas Penal Code, it is a defense that someone engaged in illegal conduct because he was induced to do so by law enforcement, “using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense.” This is a difficult standard to meet as “merely affording an opportunity” is not enough. 

For the prostitute, it is a defense to an accusation that the prostitute was the victim of sex trafficking or compelling prostitution. 

How can I clean my record if I have been arrested for prostitution?

In order to expunge your prostitution arrest, you need to obtain a dismissal or an acquittal at trial. If you end up on probation for prostitution, the best you can hope for is obtaining a non-disclosure (aka “sealing” of your records), but that is not available in every case. It is critical to obtain an experienced criminal defense lawyer to maximize your chances of getting your case dismissed, or an acquittal, so you can obtain an expunction. 

How does the Houston Police Department enforce prostitution laws?

The Houston Police Department and other agencies frequently conduct stings to arrest alleged prostitutes and johns. Most arrests filed in the Greater Houston area (including Fort Bend County and Montgomery County) take place as a result of these stings. 

Perhaps the most common prostitution sting in the Houston area is an undercover female officer posing as a prostitute and approaching johns in areas known for prostitution activity. The undercover officer will wear a recording device and offer sexual services for a fee. If the target of the sting accepts, he will be quickly arrested. Similar stings occur in massage parlors throughout the Houston area. A Houston Police Department Officer will pose as a masseuse and attempt to get would-be johns to agree to exchange money for sex.  

An increasingly common sting in the Houston area targets prostitution on websites known for escorts (like the now defunct backpage.com). Again, an undercover officer will post an add and make arrangements to meet a suspect at a hotel. The suspect and the undercover officer will typically discuss the details of the transaction by text, and the suspect will be arrested when he arrives at the hotel. 

Perhaps due to political pressure to combat human trafficking, most prostitution stings in the Houston area target johns. However, there are still stings in strip clubs where a male undercover officer will pose as a patron of a strip club and attempt to get a stripper to agree to engage in some sexual act in exchange for money. 

How are prostitution cases prosecuted in Houston?

Fortunately, District Attorneys’ Offices in the Greater Houston area are generally reasonable when it comes to prosecuting prostitution cases. Although solicitation of prostitution is now a felony, most prosecutors understand that many first-time prostitution offenses were mistakes committed by good people and they are willing to offer resolutions that will allow the offense to stay off of a defendant’s record.  It is critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney challenge the evidence on your behalf and work hard to obtain a dismissal. 

Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who has obtained dismissals in countless prostitution cases throughout his career. If you are charged with prostitution, Jose Ceja is an excellent choice. Call today to schedule a free consultation.