Easy Targets: Is MPD Targeting Uber and Taxi Drivers in Solicitation of Prostitution Cases?
In a disturbing trend, I’ve seen a large rise in solicitation of prostitution arrests among those who pick up and drive customers for a living. It’s that time of year again, when MPD decides to devote a tremendous amount of resources to stamping out sex among consenting adults. Washington D.C. police have seemed, in recent years, to have increased the number of campaigns against prostitution in the city. Sometimes these stings involve placing fake advertisements in Back Pages, Craigslist, or the City Paper. More often, they simply throw an undercover MPD officer into fishnets and a halter top, back her up with a hidden arrest team, and send her out on the streets to flag down passersby in the hopes of securing solicitation arrests. But in recent months, solicitation arrests have begun to take on a disturbing familiarity. That’s because many of the clients who have walked into my office seeking help in defending themselves against these charges have had two things in common: 1) they are either Uber or Taxi drivers; and 2) their native language is something other than English.
Why, you may ask, would MPD be focusing on this specific population to increase their solicitation arrest numbers? Well, gun to my head, I’d have to say that it’s because immigrant Uber and Taxi drivers are easy targets for this type of sting operation. First, these guys are driving around the city all night, picking up and dropping off passengers. While most people aren’t going to stop when flagged down by a underdressed female standing on a corner, those who drive for a living and rely on customers to put food on their tables are willing to stop and see if there is money to be made. In addition, many of the drivers, out on the streets all night, are simply stopping and parking to take a break or to wait for their next fare. To an undercover officer in a prostitution sting, men sitting in parked cars are like blood in the water. It doesn’t take much time for the officer to move in on its prey.
But it’s not just their availability that makes these drivers easy targets. It’s that many of them don’t always speak and understand English at a sophisticated level. And that’s a serious problem when undercover police officers are trying to elicit certain responses to their questions, so that they can slap you into handcuffs and haul you off to jail. The real danger comes from the fact that solicitation of prostitution is one of the few crimes that is committed just by talking. You don’t have to take a single step towards actually having sex with a prostitute to be convicted of solicitation. All you have to do is verbally offer money for sex, or accept an offer of sex for money. Now, in some cases it is obvious that the target of the sting was doing just that. But in other cases, the conversation between the undercover and the target is a little harder to decipher. It can appear that one person was talking about one thing, while the other was talking about something completely different. In one case, my client thought he was simply engaging in witty banter with the undercover officer. These conversations can even be more confusing when the target doesn’t have the greatest command of English.
Whether or not MPD should be devoting resources to this type of police activity is something I’ve repeatedly questioned. But even if one believes this to be a worthy exercise of the power of the state (it’s definitely not), it’s difficult to justify the targeting of one particular group. It’s doubtful that members of the livery trade are simply more predisposed to paying for sex, but they are predisposed to being out on the streets at night. And in Washington, D.C., many of the drivers are here from other countries, chasing the American dream. As a result of a 60 second conversation, however, that dream can become a nightmare.
Due to the nature of the charge, there are many defenses to solicitation of prostitution. If you’ve been arrested in Washington, D.C., contact Trial Attorney Jay Mykytiuk for a case evaluation.