To engage in, or propose to engage in, sexual conduct for money is a misdemeanor called solicitation. Sex is defined as broadly as a “lewd act” which is any contact between participants with sexual organs. It is the same crime whether you are the prostitute or the “John” (the one offering to pay). This is another terrible law, a victimless crime committed by consenting adults – the sole negative consequences of which are created by making it illegal in the first place. The statute is worded awkwardly, but the jist of it is that a proposition to have sex, or agreement to have sex, for money, is a crime when combined with a small step to complete the act. Such a step would be to agree to park a car in a particular spot, to get in a car, or to give or accept money.
Some frequently asked questions about solicitation:
I was arrested after an undercover officer propositioned me. Isn’t that entrapment?
Entrapment is technically arguable in most solicitation cases, however, it’s rarely effective. Entrapment is called an “affirmative defense” meaning, “I did it, but I’m innocent because…” so it requires admitting committing the crime. Self-defense is the most well known affirmative defense. In order to assert the defense of entrapment, the claim would be that you never would have committed the crime had law enforcement not instigated the contact and/or the proposition. Prostitution stings are staged in parts of town in which alternative reasons for engaging with the decoy officer are hard to justify. Remember, this defense doesn’t just have to be believed by a jury, but first by the judge in order to get the jury instruction read to the jury. However, in certain settings, entrapment can be effective.
A typically better defense is that there was no specific agreement in the first place. If you did not possess the amount the officer claims was agreed upon, it would be difficult to argue that you intended to pay it. Perhaps there was a mistake or misunderstanding about what exactly was agreed to.
Another good argument is lack of evidence. For one reason or another, the LAPD vice squad rarely records the conversations of the decoy officers and the Johns. The officers who are watching nearby are typically waiting for a signal, or for the John to pull to a designated area where he is immediately arrested. The decoy officer then writes down what the John said later in her report. This can be several hours later after many other conversations (and arrests), thus calling into question the accuracy of her memory. If there was no recording, the officer will be hard pressed to explain why not.
What is the punishment for solicitation?
Solicitation carries a maximum penalty of 6 months county jail for a first offense. You will not serve this but will typically be offered 3 years “summary” probation (no probation officer to check in with) with conditions ranging from minimal jail, fines, keep away orders, and possibly community labor. The offense is “priorable” meaning previous convictions for this crime produce a statutorily mandatory jail term of 45 days for one prior offense and 90 days for a second prior offense.
IF you were driving and within 1000 feet of a residence, you can lose your license for 30 days, and/or have it restricted for 6 months. This is a separate law in the Vehicle Code which can be enforced by the court.
Do I have to register as a sex offender?
No, not unless there are some other aggravating facts that would make the court or prosecutor feel you are a larger threat to society. But this would be a different case, defended more vigorously, and more likely to be tried before a jury. Typically acts of prostitution are not registerable offenses.