LAST UPDATE: April 6, 2019
It is against the law in Washington, D.C. to solicit/perform sexual acts in exchange for money. The maximum penalty for a first offense is a fine of up to $500 and/or not more than 90 days in jail.
Answers to frequently asked questions are provided below: What is prostitution/sexual solicitation? Will I go to jail? Is there special treatment for first-time offenders? What will happen at my initial court appearance? Will I have a criminal record after being charged with prostitution/sexual solicitation? Will I need a lawyer?
What is prostitution/sexual solicitation?
“Prostitution” has been defined as a sexual act/contact with another person in exchange for money. According to this definition, both the person offering the services and the person receiving the services could be convicted of the offense. “Soliciting for prostitution” is defined as inviting, enticing, offering, persuading, or agreeing to engage in prostitution.
People are usually arrested in the District as part of a “sting operation.” Sometimes the “decoy” — a female undercover officer posing as a prostitute — approaches people at a traffic light or gas station. As soon as there is any discussion of sex in exchange for money, backup officers move in to make the arrest. These interactions are typically not recorded. In other instances, D.C. police lure the “john” to a hotel room through Craigslist, the Backpages, or a social media site. The undercover officer confirms the arrangement and then steps into the bathroom to “freshen up.” The backup officers then burst into the room to make the arrest. Police use a hidden camera to record the interaction.
Will I go to jail?
Very few prostitution cases go to trial in D.C. It is much more likely that the government will offer the person accused of the offense a “diversion” program for first-time offenders. According to one of these programs (described in greater detail below), the person performs community service in exchange for the government dismissing the charges. It is also unlikely that a person who is convicted of the offense would actually serve any jail time. That said, the maximum penalty for prostitution in D.C. is a fine of $500 and/or not more than 90 days imprisonment for the first offense; a fine of $750 and/or up to 135 days imprisonment for a second offense; and a fine of $1000 and/or not more than 180 days for a third and each subsequent offense. The court may “suspend” the sentence (that is, order probation in lieu of incarceration) for a conviction of prostitution. It may also order the person to stay away from the area in which the offense occurred, submit to medical and mental health treatment or fulfill any other conditions the court may impose. D.C. Criminal Code 22-2701. D.C. Criminal Code 22-2701.1. D.C. Criminal Code 22-2703.
Is there special treatment for first-time offenders?
Yes. The government typically offers first-time offenders a “diversion” program. The diversion program that is usually offered in this type of case is called a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). After passing three drug tests, the person has four months to complete 32 hours of community service at an approved organization. The government dismisses the charges upon successful completion of the agreement.
People who are not eligible for a DPA might be able to participate in a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA). According to this voluntary agreement between the government and defendant, the defendant agrees to waive his right to trial and to plead guilty to the offense. However, instead of proceeding to sentencing, the government provides the defendant with the opportunity to complete an agreed upon set of conditions (typically community service). If the defendant completes these conditions successfully, the government allows him to withdraw the guilty plea and dismisses the charges. If the defendant fails to abide by his end of the agreement, the court will enter the guilty plea into the record and sentence him accordingly.
As with all diversion programs, participation in either a DPA or DSA is solely at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
What will happen at my initial court appearance?
A criminal case in D.C. typically involves at least three court hearings: arraignment, initial status hearing, and final status hearing/trial. The first hearing is the arraignment. Held in Room C10 of D.C. Superior Court, the purpose of the arraignment is inform the defendant of the charges against him and to hear his plea. The court will also advise the defendant of the right to counsel, and the government will turn over initial paperwork related to the charges.
An initial status hearing is typically scheduled three or four weeks from the arraignment. The defendant’s lawyer will be in contact with the assigned prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office during this period of time. The parties will decide whether to enter into a diversion program or other type of non-trial disposition or to schedule a trial at the second court date.
Will I have a criminal record after being arrested for prostitution/sexual solicitation?
Yes. Everyone who has been arrested for a criminal offense in Washington, D.C. has some type of criminal record. In some cases, the record may be nothing more than an entry in the FBI database, accessible only to other governmental entities with permission to use the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). In other cases, the record may be publicly available – accessible to anyone looking for it — through D.C. Superior Court’s website. The type of record a person has, along with how visible it is and what the person must do to have it removed, will depend on how far into the criminal process the person made it. For example, was the person who was arrested also booked, charged and/or convicted of an offense? For information on expunging or sealing your criminal record, please click here.
Will I need a lawyer?
Yes. Although you have the right to defend yourself, the court will actively discourage you from doing so. This is because of the enormous stakes and complexity involved in a criminal case. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will appoint one to represent you. You are also welcome to call us with any questions at 202-549-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.