Prostitution and Solicitation Charges in Washington, D.C.

Under the DC Code, it is illegal to engage in, offer to, or solicit prostitution. In other words, both prostitutes and their clients can be prosecuted.

D.C. employs a “repeat offender” system for prostitution and solicitation. First offenses are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500; a second offense is punishable by up to 180 days in jail; and third or subsequent offenses can be punished by up to 2 years in prison. The enhanced penalty for repeat offenses take account of prior convictions from other jurisdictions.

How prostitution and solicitation crimes are prosecuted and investigated

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has spent years combating DC’s illegal prostitution industry, and prostitution cases remain a priority.

The primary law enforcement technique used in DC to prosecute prostitution cases is the “sting operation.”  Undercover officers pose as either prostitutes or potential customers in neighborhoods where prostitution is known to take place, while uniformed officers wait nearby to make an arrest.  Undercover officers also utilize websites that are known to offer prostitution services. It is non unusual for teams of officers to make several arrests per night in this manner.  The cases are then prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.

Consequences of being charged with a prostitution or solicitation crime in D.C.

Although the D.C. Code provides for punishment of up to 90 days in jail for a first offender, in practice the defendant in such cases will usually be offered “diversion,” which is similar to probation in other jurisdictions.  Diversion typically requires the defendant to perform community service, attend special classes, and meet other requirements in exchange for a dismissal of the charge.  However, even after the dismissal, the records of the arrest and prosecution remain publicly available, which can cause professional consequences and embarrassment.  Diversion is almost never available for second or subsequent offenses.

Generally, prostitution and solicitation cases that have been dismissed pursuant to a diversion agreement cannot be sealed or expunged.  On the other hand, cases dismissed without diversion, or which result in an acquittal, may be eligible for expungement or sealing. It is important to consult an attorney beforehand to explore whether you have a potential defense to a solicitation charge, before deciding on whether diversion is necessarily the best option for you.

Defending Prostitution and Solicitation Charges in D.C.

In order to prove its case, the government must produce evidence of an agreement: money in exchange for sexual activity.  It is not a crime to dress provocatively in the wrong neighborhood, or to converse with a prostitute while stopping short of making an actual agreement.  You should discuss the facts of your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if the government has a solid case against you.  As in all criminal cases, your attorney can assist you in asserting your discovery rights to get a look at the government’s evidence beforehand.

Even where the government has a strong case against you, it may be possible to get the charges dismissed on so-called technical grounds.  For example, we obtained a dismissal of a D.C. prostitution charge when we obtained impeaching information about one of the officers involved in the sting, and the government opted to dismiss the case in order to prevent the impeaching information from being developed at trial.

Once you have discussed your case with an attorney, reviewed the evidence from discovery, and explored other avenues to get the case dismissed, you should be in a good position to decide if diversion or trial is the best option for you.