New York prostitution forms demand certainty for convictions

Trained law enforcement personnel are supposed to be able to discern between casual encounters on city streets and repeated activities of solicitation of prostitution. This task has not been as simple as it seems.

Prostitution goes from tolerated business to local nuisance

New York prostitution laws have evolved over the years to reflect the attitudes of the times. In the 1800s, prostitutes and brothels were concentrated in certain areas, and prostitution was a form of vagrancy classified as a violation under former law.

During the 20th Century, solicitations became more aggressive and brazen, and vehicle traffic was disrupted in the congested city streets by people engaging in this activity. New York lawmakers in 1975 decided to crack down with a new law prohibiting the act of loitering for the purposes of soliciting prostitution.

Prostitution-Victimless crime or victimized community?

Historical notes of the legislature declared that loitering for the purpose of prostitution and patronizing prostitutes caused citizens who were present in public places to be unwilling victims of harassment and to be unwillingly subjected to assaults on their personal privacy. Loitering to solicit prostitution was therefore denounced as disruptive to public peace.

Therefore, the new law targeted pimps and prostitutes plying their trade in a repeated manner, and even had a specific target-Times Square and its surrounding streets. After the police crackdown on illicit sex in the area, there were concerns that the new law may trample on constitutional rights of citizens.

Beckoning or just hanging out?

Individuals charged with prostitution, soliciting prostitution and loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense have often claimed that the evidence did not add up to a crime and sometimes asked to have their charges dismissed in the interest of justice.

Guilt of these offenses by law requires repeatedly beckoning or stopping passers-by or cars for the purpose of prostitution. Several recent cases illustrate the way individuals are mistakenly thought to be hawking their wares when they are merely in a certain vicinity, perhaps just talking to another person.

Fill-in-the blank complaint forms

In People v. McGinnis and People v. Barker, the police used a preprinted, check-off type supporting deposition form in arresting women for loitering for the purpose of engaging in a prostitution offense. The form has areas to check off different elements of the crime, such as whether the location was frequented by prostitutes or the suspect beckoned to people or stopped cars.

The policeman in McGinnis astonishingly in the words of the court listed in a fill in the blank section the clothing worn by the defendant as skinny jeans showing the outline of her legs and platform shoes. In contrast to other cases where arrestees were scantily clad, such clothing gave no indication of a link to prostitution. Similarly, in both cases the late-night observation of the defendant in an area frequented by prostitutes was not evidence of any crime.

Information must be specific and detailed

In Barker, the check-the-box form contained too few details about the attire, deportment or activities of the defendant which would indicate objectively that they were at the location for the purpose of prostitution. The court cannot make a leap of faith by accepting an officer's claim that a crime was committed when the facts are not there to back it up.

Prostitution-related offenses are a serious matter in New York, and carry with them long-term consequences for your job or profession. If you or a loved one is accused of such a crime, an experienced attorney can help determine if the evidence is sufficient.