Why Harris County is Cracking Down on Prostitution Crimes

If you live in the Harris County, TX area, you may be aware of the means by which Harris County is cracking down on prostitution crimes.

The District Attorney of Harris County, Kim Ogg, recently announced more than $4 million in Texas grants were available to assist victims of violent crime and sex trafficking. More than 270 online prostitution and human trafficking arrests resulted from an undercover investigation in Polk County.

Houston ranks first in the number of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, reflecting the reasons for local heightened awareness of prostitution and trafficking crimes in Houston. The state wants to encourage a paradigm shift for victims that will begin in Houston. The new grants will be issued through 2019.

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Increased Number of Prostitution-Related Charges in Houston

The Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, reports that the new funds will help the county to prosecute more sex crimes. He says that the focus will shift from individual prostitutes to the clients of prostitutes (johns) that seek out sex for money in Houston. The number of prostitution-related charges has increased this year.

In 2016, more than 1400 charges were filed against female prostitutes and sellers. Just 708 cases were brought against buyers of sex services.

The tables have shifted in 2017: Charges were filed against more than 970 buyers and just 820 alleged female prostitutes and sellers.

State Grants and Human Trafficking

The goal of the new state grants is to support victims of human trafficking to help them get their lives on track:

  • Approximately $1 million of the grant funds will be used to fund prosecution and expand referral and victim services.
  • Money will be used to provide trauma-informed care and case workers for sex trafficking victims.
  • About $3 million will be used to support victims of “violent crimes against people.” The staff of the Victim Witness Division in Harris County will double.
  • The remaining funds will be used to increase prosecution and services for domestic violence victims.

The grant reflects an important sea change in how sex trafficking cases are addressed. In prior decades:

  • Survivors of sex trafficking, both minors and adults, were frequently sent to jail for offering sex for money.
  • Recently, the focus of law enforcement has addressed the demand for prostitution instead of the supply of prostitutes.
  • The District Attorney said that most women facing prostitution charges will be provided with services instead of a jail sentence.

Human trafficking victims often continue to suffer, even after they stop selling sexual services. Advocates in Harris County believe the focus should shift to individuals who want to buy sex. The focus will shift to buyers, pimps and traffickers.

Harris County law enforcement wants these individuals to know they’ll be identified and charged with human trafficking crimes.

Harris County, TX new “tough stand” on prostitution

Prosecutors in Harris County are on the record. They want to identify and arrest more prostitution customers.

Because the District Attorney’s Office has announced its plans to charge more people with soliciting prostitution, it’s essential to consult with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney if you’re charged with a human trafficking or prostitution crime.

Harris County has indicated it won’t continue to offer pretrial diversion going forward for alleged johns in prostitution cases. For that reason, individuals charged with a prostitution or related crime should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

What is Pretrial Diversion?

In Harris County, pretrial diversion means the first-time offender may have the option to avoid a criminal trial and, if found guilty of the charge, face jail time and significant fines.

In order to take advantage of pretrial diversion, the defendant must admit guilt to obtain pretrial diversion status:

  • If granted, the defendant is ordered to perform community service.
  • Once the defendant completes the pretrial diversion program, his or her criminal record is expunged. In other words, the defendant’s criminal record is completely erased.
  • In order to be eligible for pretrial diversion, the accused mustn’t have a criminal record. A prior criminal case, even a dismissed case, constitutes a criminal record. In that case, the defendant isn’t eligible for pretrial diversion.

A first-time prostitution charge is considered a Class B misdemeanor in Texas. For pretrial diversion-eligible defendants in a misdemeanor case, he or she typically serves approximately 16 community service hours.

Unfortunately, some Harris County defendants aren’t eligible for pretrial diversion because of the recent decision to prosecute more human trafficking cases.

Texas Prosecution Laws and Penalties

In Texas, a first-time defendant charged with soliciting or patronizing a prostitute faces a Class B misdemeanor:

  • The defendant faces a 180-day (six months) state jail sentence and up to $2,000 in fines if convicted.
  • If the defendant has at least one prior prostitution-related conviction, the current case is elevated to a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the defendant faces up to one year in a state jail and up to $4,000 in fines.
  • If the defendant has three-plus prior convictions, his or her charge is elevated to a state jail felony. If convicted, the defendant faces at least 180 days (six months) to a maximum of two years in Texas jail plus up to $10,000 in fines.
  • If convicted, the offender may be required to attend educational classes and/or perform community service.

Possible defenses against a Texas prostitution charge

Under Texas Penal Code Section 43.01, a paying customer may not solicit the services of a prostitute for the purpose of having sex for money. A defendant may be charged with a prosecution crime if 1) he or she offered another person compensation in exchange for sex or 2) the individual sought out another person’s sexual services in exchange for money (solicitation of prostitution).

A knowledgeable Houston prostitution lawyer will thoroughly evaluate the facts of the case to determine a defense against a prostitution charge:

  • The state must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. In a prostitution case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant paid money in exchange for sex.
  • If the defendant was arrested as part of an undercover initiative, it may be possible to argue entrapment. If entrapment occurred, the undercover officer(s) encouraged or prompted the defendant to solicit prostitution.
  • To prove a prostitution case in Texas, the prosecutor must establish that money changed hands between the john and prostitute. If the prosecution doesn’t prove this fact, the criminal defense attorney may argue that sex occurred between two consenting adults.
  • Texas law considers if the defendant solicited prostitution in a “public place,” including at a hotel, train station, airport, or another area where the public could access the location.

A prostitution charge of any type may have extremely serious consequences, including a jail term, significant fines, loss of reputation and income, lost relationships, and public shame.

Contact an Experienced Houston Prostitution Lawyer

If you or a loved one is facing a prostitution or related charge in Houston, call The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp at 713-868-6100 right away.

Experienced Texas prostitution attorney Matthew D. Sharp will evaluate the facts of the case to develop a custom defense. He will protect your reputation and legal rights.