Soliciting Prostitution in California: The Breakdown on Laws, Potential Penalties & Legal Defense
Soliciting for prostitution is illegal in California, and it’s an offense that can have far-reaching consequences for a person’s family relationships, employment opportunities and criminal record. At the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin, our team of skilled criminal defense lawyers has successfully defended people from all walks of life against charges of solicitation of prostitution. Our aggressive approach to defending every client achieves outstanding results and has earned us the respect of judges, prosecutors, and lawyers throughout Southern California.
California’s Prostitution and Solicitation Laws: Possible Charges After Arrest
California law defines three different prostitution-related crimes:
- Soliciting prostitution
- Agreeing to engage in prostitution
- Engaging in prostitution.
California Penal Code 647(b) states that any one of these acts violates the law against “disorderly conduct.” Here’s how to distinguish each offense from the others:
- Requesting another person trade sex or lewd acts for compensation,
- Intending to engage receive or pay compensation in exchange for sex
- The other person received the request/offer
- Take some action to advance the act of prostitution.
Agreeing to Engage in Prostitution
- Accepting or agreeing to another’s request or offer to trade sex or lewd activity in exchange for compensation
- Take some action to advance the act of prostitution
- The person offering or requesting the transaction does not need the intent to engage in sex or lewd activity
- Any lewd act between persons for money or other form of payment.
To highlight an important point about the offense of agreeing to engage in prostitution, notice that the person who offers or requests the exchange of sex or lewd activity for money does not need to intend to complete the sexual activity. This is significant because it allows undercover police officers to conduct sting operations in which the police ask for the sex or introduce the idea of trading sex for money. In that scenario, the police have no intention of engaging in sex but the person who agreed, who accepted the offer, will be prosecuted for agreeing to the lewd proposition.
What Does "Soliciting Prostitution" Mean in CA?
Soliciting prostitution occurs when a person asks, invites, or agrees to engage in sexual intercourse or other sexual activity with another person in exchange for money or anything of value, and then acts in furtherance of the agreement. The offense is distinct from the offense of “prostitution” which requires proof of sexual or lewd act performed in exchange for money or something of value.
The State can prosecute this offense against the person seeking sex and offering compensation, or against the person offering sex in exchange for payment.
The law in California requires that the state prosecutor must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to convict the defendant. The criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin are experts at raising that doubt at trial or in pretrial discussions with the prosecuting attorney.
The elements that the prosecutor must prove are these:
- The defendant requested or offered that another person engage in an act of prostitution (sexual or lewd activity exchanged for money or a thing of value)
The defendant intended to engage in an act of prostitution
The other person received the request or offer
The defendant performed some act in furtherance of the crime (physical or verbal).
Note: The “act in furtherance” could be walking toward a hotel, telling the person where to go to engage in the sex agreed to, or any activity that advances the offense’s process.
Is Prostitution Legal in California?
Prostitution is not legal in California. Nevada is the only state in the U.S. where prostitution or soliciting for prostitution is legal. While calls to legalize “sex work” have increased, most states continue to consider prostitution harmful to society and a threat to public health.
The only activity related to prostitution that California recently decriminalized is loitering for purposes of prostitution, an offense separate from either soliciting prostitution or prostitution itself.
Previously, police officers could arrest people who congregated near or were standing in areas with a high frequency of prostitution. If they possessed condoms, the prosecutor could use them as evidence to prove they were loitering for prostitution. Changes to the law prevent arrests for loitering for prostitution and also make possession of condoms inadmissible in a prostitution-related prosecution.
Examples of Soliciting Prostitutes
The criminal offense of soliciting prostitution requires communicating the lewd proposition to another person. The communication can be verbal or in writing. The “john” could pass a note to another person proposing a trade of sex for money. The offer could also get published online or in the personal ads section of a magazine or newspaper.
In California, some act in furtherance of the solicitation is required for conviction. Some examples of ways a person could commit solicitation of prostitution include these:
- Stopping a car next to another person and offering money for sex and opening the door, or driving away with the person in the car
- Emailing or texting an offer of compensation in exchange for sex, and making arrangements to meet them,
- Calling an “escort service” and inviting the escort to trade sex for money
- Offering a hitchhiker a ride in exchange for sex and letting them in the car
- Offering drugs to someone in exchange for sex
- A law enforcement officer offering to let someone go in exchange for sex.
Is Soliciting Prostitution a Felony or Misdemeanor in California?
In California, soliciting prostitution is a misdemeanor. Soliciting is a form of disorderly conduct. But the courts take soliciting prostitution charges very seriously. They consider the solicitation of prostitution as a driving force in its continued persistence. The public increasingly demands accountability from the consumer of prostitution equal to that imposed on the sex worker.
While some sex workers freely choose that life, drug addiction, poverty, and sex trafficking often keep prostitutes in a cycle of exploitation by others. Courts are increasingly harsh on buyers of prostitutes’ services.
Soliciting Prostitution Penalties
A person convicted of soliciting prostitution faces a wide range of penalties. Solicitation of prostitution is punishable by incarceration, expensive fines, a mandatory AIDS test, probation, and community service. Whether to impose time in jail or fines or both is within the discretion of the judge. Additional penalties are possible in certain circumstances:
1st Offense Soliciting Prostitution
- Up to 6 months in jail
- Informal probation
- Community service
- A fine of up $1,000
If committed within 1,000 feet of a private residence and used a vehicle:
- 30 suspension of driver’s license, or
- Up to 6 months restricted driver’s license.
If the person solicited was a minor:
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to a $2,000 fine.
If the person solicited was a minor and the defendant knew they were a minor:
- Minimum of 2 days in jail and up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $10,000 fine
- (Mandatory 2 days in jail might be waived in rare cases with judge’s findings).
2nd or Subsequent Offense Soliciting Prostitution
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $2,000 fine.
Any non-citizen convicted of a solicitation or prostitution, agreeing to engage in prostitution, or engaging in prostitution should know that each of these offenses is a crime of moral turpitude that could trigger removal proceedings, resulting in their deportation from the United States.
Solicitation of Prostitution: Related Offenses
California law prohibits other offenses related to solicitation of prostitution. The act of prostitution can involve two people, but there are often other parties involved in promoting, arranging, or profiting from prostitution.
California penal code 266(h) criminalizes “pimping” as a felony. Felony pimping is a crime in which a person knowingly derives support or financial maintenance from the earnings or proceeds of a prostitute.
Both pimping and pandering carry possible state prison sentences of varying lengths and the payment of substantial fines.
California penal code 266(i) defines criminal pandering as procuring someone for the purpose of prostitution, or persuading, or encouraging someone to become a prostitute with promises, threats, or violence.
Sex-related Human Trafficking
Under California law, depriving or violating someone’s personal liberty with the intent to commit one of the enumerated crimes in the statute constitutes the felony of human trafficking. This serious felony is punishable by from 12 to 20 years in state prison and mandatory sex offender registration.
Defenses for Solicitation Charges
- Defending against charges of soliciting prostitution requires the legal expertise of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. The prosecution’s burden of proof requires evidence proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Hart J. Levin know precisely which evidence to attack in a given situation. We analyze each fact pattern to identify the most powerful defense that is most likely to defeat the prosecution’s attempt to convict our client.
Defenses Available to Defeat the Prosecution:
Defendant never intended to engage in sex for money
- Any discussion was curiosity only
- Insufficient evidence of intent.
Mistake of fact
- Didn’t understand the person propositioned wanted money.
- It wasn’t the defendant (Identification defense)
- Defendant never communicated the alleged proposition
Defendant merely gave the person a ride.
- Police or informant induced the defendant
Defendant was not predisposed to commit the offense
Improper pressure was wielded by police to entice defendant.
Prostitution Solicitation in California FAQs
Is soliciting the same as prostitution?
What qualifies as soliciting?
Do sexual services have to be rendered to be arrested for solicitation of a prostitute?
No sexual or lewd activity needs to occur for a person to be arrested for solicitation of a prostitute. The offense is completed as soon as someone communicates the request or offer to engage in sex for compensation of some kind.
What is the statute of limitations for solicitation charges in California?
PC 647(b) are filed as misdemeanors in California. Misdemeanors have a one year statute of limitations.
How bad is a solicitation charge?
Soliciting prostitution is usually a misdemeanor in California, carrying a penalty of up to 6 months in jail and $1,000. In some cases, the sentence can be as high as 1 year in jail and up to $20,000 in fines.
Beyond those legal penalties, a conviction for solicitation of prostitution can devastate a person’s reputation in the community, their family relationships, and even their employment.
Schedule a Consultation with Our Expert Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers
Contact the Law Offices of Hart J. Levin for the best Southern California defense lawyers against charges of solicitation of prostitution today. We are available 24/7 and offer flexible payment plans.