If you’ve been arrested for a prostitution-related offense in San Diego, the arrest alone can damage your reputation and relationships, not to mention landing you in county jail or state prison. While the value of devoting substantial resources to pursuing these crimes may be debatable, law enforcement and prosecutors aggressively pursue sex crimes and many police departments have a vice squad specifically devoted to locking up perpetrators. Often the police will even engage in sting operations designed for potential customers (called “johns”) or prostitutes.

Prostitution-related offenses carry serious consequences. Criminal statutes make it illegal to offer, agree or engage in sex for money or any other form of compensation, like illegal drugs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a prostitute offering sexual services for money or the customer requesting such services—San Diego police and prosecutors vigorously enforce anti-prostitution laws.

If you’ve been arrested for any of these crimes, call an attorney before you speak with law enforcement or the district attorney. As a former prosecutor who worked on the other side, I know how damaging to your case allowing yourself to be interviewed or interrogated can be. I’ve defended hundreds of people throughout Southern California accused of a wide range of crime, including prostitution-related offenses. Below is my guide to what you need to know if you’ve been accused of one of these crimes. If you have questions or would like to learn what your legal options are, get in touch with me for a free consultation.

Prostitution and Solicitation

What the Law Says

These offenses are related but distinct under Penal Code Section 647. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Engaging in Prostitution: This means intentionally or purposefully engaging in a lewd act in exchange for money or other form of compensation. It is not limited to sexual intercourse, but may also include contact with any intimate parts of the anatomy with the specific intent to cause sexual arousal or gratification.
  • Solicitation: This offense involves enticing someone to engage in an act of prostitution that is done with the specific intent to actually engage in prostitution. While many people associate this offense with the “john” customer, either the customer or the prostitute may be convicted of solicitation, depending on who initiates the conversation, interaction or transaction. California appellate courts have ruled that there must be more than just the enticement in the form of a conversation or gesture to support a conviction. These rulings are in place in order to protect people who engage in innocent gestures. The prosecution must prove the specific intent to actually engage in prostitution, which may be shown by physical acts, such as exchanging money.
  • Entering an Agreement to Engage in Prostitution: This offense is essentially the flip side of solicitation. When a party is solicited to engage in an act of prostitution, the person who makes the offer or enticement will be charged with solicitation, whereas the person who accepts the offer will be charged with entering into an agreement to engage in prostitution. This offense requires the prosecutor to show that you agreed to engage in an act of prostitution when solicited with the specific intent to actually commit the act. However, the prosecutor must also show that you engaged in an act “in furtherance” of the offense. Common types of evidence that prosecutors will use to prove this include driving to a designated location, asking someone to get undressed or exchanging compensation.

Consequences of Conviction

While all these offenses are misdemeanors on a first-time conviction, they can still carry serious penalties, including a maximum of six months in county jail and $1,000 fine plus other court-imposed fees. Subsequent offenses may result in a felony conviction and far more serious penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences.

If you commit a prostitution-related offense while using your vehicle, you may also face a driver’s license suspension, restriction of your driving privileges or vehicle impoundment. Although registration as a sex offender is not required if you’re convicted, the judge may impose such a requirement under certain circumstances, so it’s important to retain an attorney with experience defending those accused of sex crimes in San Diego.

Pimping and Pandering

What the Law Says

You may be arrested in San Diego for serving as a middleman between prostitutes and their customers. The offenses of pimping, under California Penal Code Section 266h, and pandering, under Penal Code Section 266i, are aimed at this middleman type of role. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Pimping: This offense involves recruiting customers for the purposes of prostitution and collecting a fee for your services from the money the customer pays to the prostitute.
  • Pandering: This crime is really another facet of engaging in pimp services because it involves encouraging or recruiting someone to engage in prostitution and making him or her available to engage in the exchange of sex for money. A prosecutor may be able to support a conviction for pandering regardless of the incentive used to encourage someone to engage in prostitution, whether it is related to force or merely compensation. There are also many ways that you may make someone available for prostitution, including advertising, routing phone calls or providing transportation.

Consequences of Conviction

If you’re convicted of pimping or pandering, you may be convicted of a felony and, depending on the specific circumstances of your offense, receive a maximum sentence of up to 6 years in the county jail or state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000 plus applicable court fees.

Other factors may enhance your penalty beyond this maximum sentence if you are charged with pimping or pandering where a person under the age of 18 is engaged in prostitution.

Defense Strategies

Law enforcement in big cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are engaging in aggressive campaigns to eliminate prostitution. Some of the tactics vice squads are using include:

  • Conducting sting operations in which law enforcement decoys dress in revealing outfits in an attempt to entice motorists to stop and agree to exchange sex for money.
  • Campaigns to shut down websites alleged to promote prostitution, such as Craigslist and websites advertising escort services like Backpage.
  • Infiltrating alleged prostitution operations, such as massage parlors, escort services and strip clubs. A law enforcement decoy may pretend to be a customer to determine if those working in the establishment cross the line between providing lawful services and prostitution.

I’ve successfully represented many clients charged with prostitution-related offenses and will seek to get your charges dismissed, obtain an acquittal after trial or have the charges reduced to minimize the negative impact on your future. Here’s how I approach sex crime cases and some of the successful defense strategies I’ve employed.

First, I carefully investigate the evidence in your case, including any audio or video recordings, testimony by law enforcement and other evidence purportedly establishing that you engaged in the crime of solicitation of prostitution.

It’s not uncommon for law enforcement investigative tactics to place otherwise law-abiding people into compromising situations. This can create the basis for an entrapment defense. Entrapment happens when police action induces an individual to commit an offense they ordinarily would be unlikely to commit. Where law enforcement agents have intentionally turned off a recording device during the interaction, I may also argue that this is evidence that law enforcement officers knew that they were entrapping you or otherwise conducting their operation improperly by hiding relevant evidence.

If it’s not feasible to prove that you were illegally entrapped, I may attack the sufficiency of the evidence, particularly regarding whether you had the specific intent to engage in prostitution. If the evidence against you is overwhelming, I may be able to negotiate a diversion program or other reduction in charges to keep you out of jail and allow you to maintain your employment and career aspirations.