“Bitch Set Me Up:” Entrapment and Prostitution Stings in Washington, D.C.

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“Bitch Set Me Up:” Entrapment and Prostitution Stings in Washington, D.C.

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Marion Barry’s now infamous quote stemming from his 1990 drug possession case has been echoed by many of his fellow Washington, D.C. neighbors, albeit in a different context. These unfortunate defendants have found themselves caught up in one of the many prostitution stings conducted by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. In their infinite wisdom, the D.C. police continue to allocate their resources (your tax payer dollars), to arresting johns who get in the wrong conversation with the wrong undercover police officer (arguably there is no right conversation with any undercover officer).
Here’s how it works: a reasonably attractive female police officer dresses in a provocative manner, (think fishnets and halter tops), and walks the streets of the city, usually in areas where prostitutes are displaying their wares. She chats up any male (generally), that comes along, turning the conversation towards an exchange of sex for money. For example:

Undercover: Is there something I can help you with?
Defendant: Yeah. What are you offering?
Undercover: You can’t see what I have?
Defendant: Yeah, yeah, what can I get?
Undercover: How much you got?
Defendant: $20 bucks
Undercover: For $20 I will . . . .

And you can use your imagination for the rest. Once the undercover officer believes, in her mind, that a deal has been made, she gives the pre-arranged signal to other officers waiting nearby. These officers come from seemingly nowhere, place you in handcuffs, and put you in the squad car. Your plans for the rest of the night changed very quickly.

The official charge for offering money for sex is Solicitation for Prostitution. D.C. Code Section 22-2701.01 defines soliciting for prostitution as inviting, enticing, offering, persuading, or agreeing to engage in prostitution. According to the case law, some exchange conveying the nature of the act to be performed and the price to be charged is sufficient to prove the offense. Money need not actually change hands. At trial, the only evidence that is usually presented by the government is the testimony of the undercover officer. For reasons that are unclear, MPD does not have the undercover wired up for sound, so there is no recording of the conversation. That means that your Washington, D.C. criminal lawyer relies almost exclusively on cross-examination of the officer to try to win your prostitution/solicitation case. Your lawyer will attack the officer’s memory and credibility, in an effort to convince the judge that there was no agreement to exchange money for sex.

Clients often claim entrapment by the police in prostitution cases. They argue that they were not out looking to pay for sex, and would never have done so if they were not approached by the undercover officer. That may be the case, but entrapment in Washington, D.C. is very difficult to prove. Essentially, proving entrapment requires a showing that the defendant was not ready and willing to violate the law. If the defendant was ready and willing, and police officers simply gave him the opportunity to do so, no entrapment has occurred. And the law in D.C. recognizes the ability of the police to persuade, threat, and coerce a defendant into breaking the law. As long as they aren’t engaging in criminal activity themselves, D.C. police have a lot of leeway in undercover operations.

One can certainly questions why the D.C. police are trying to convince D.C. citizens to engage in solicitation of prostitution. But there is no question that they can lawfully do so. Your D.C. solicitation of prostitution lawyer will examine all possible defenses, including entrapment , in vigorously defending against your solicitation charge.

If you have been arrested for prostitution or solicitation in Washington, D.C., contact JPMLegal for a free consultation.