Defending DC Prostitution Charges

Below is excerpted from an interview with Peter Odom, a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, DC. Peter answers questions about defending DC prostitution charges.

Why is hiring an attorney important in prostitution cases?

Peter Odom: An attorney who understands prostitution charges can get their client the best result possible either through forming the best defenses, by understanding what the prosecutor needs to be able to prove, or by negotiating with the prosecutor to get the best possible agreement that could potentially result in getting the charges dismissed. Only an attorney who knows these cases and the court procedures well can figure out the best possible outcome and work diligently towards that outcome.

What methods do you employ to formulate a strong defense?

Peter Odom: One of the most important defenses in prostitution cases is questioning whether or not the conversation between the suspect and the undercover police officer actually amounts to either a true offer or a true acceptance. If the suspect is a suspected John, sometimes the police will preemptively make an arrest prior to getting enough evidence to actually show that there is an acceptance of an offer. As an example, if the undercover police officer makes an offer to the individual, and they don’t give a concretely affirmative response, but the officer calls in their team to make the arrest anyway, the prosecutor will struggle to prove that there is actually an acceptance. A possible defense to that would be to say that the conversation never resulted in an acceptance of the offer. The same thing applies on the other side. If a suspected prostitute meets an undercover police officer at a hotel as an escort or a dancer, which are both legal professions, and never actually makes a clear offer for any sexual acts or makes a presumption that there is an offer for a sexual act or sexual contact, but the undercover police officer makes the arrest anyway, there is a possible defense that there was no clear offer of a sexual act. Examining the language of the offer and the language of the acceptance can create possible defenses.

How public are prostitution charges?

Peter Odom: Criminal charges and cases are always public in the sense that anyone who goes onto the DC Superior Court’s website can type in a name and see the person’s court docket. Anyone who wants to go to the DC Superior Court to make a request for court records has the ability to do that. However, DC does not post criminal records on any online search engines like Google and does not post this information in easily accessible places. If someone is arrested for prostitution, their family members or employers would not be able to type their name into Google and see that they have been arrested for prostitution. However, many employers conduct background checks on employees and potential employees, which could turn up pending prostitution charges or prostitution convictions.

Is it possible to keep a prostitution conviction confidential? 

Peter Odom: Unfortunately, criminal records are all considered public, so there is no way to keep a conviction confidential. A prostitution charge is expungeable even if the person is convicted, but they have to wait eight years before they can expunge a criminal conviction of prostitution. If the person is not convicted and their charges are either dismissed because they are acquitted at trial or dismissed through a diversion agreement, then the person is eligible to expunge that record after a two-year waiting period instead of eight years. If a defendant can prove their own innocence, which is different from being acquitted or having the charges dismissed, they may be able to request an immediate expungement.