Prostitution Investigations in DC

Shawn Sukumar, a criminal lawyer who handles prostitution and solicitation cases in the District of Columbia, answers questions about prostitution and solicitation investigations.

How are prostitution and solicitation cases typically investigated?

Shawn Sukumar: It is usually a situation in which an undercover police officer poses as a prostitute. The players involved are the undercover police officer, the private individual who is communicating with that undercover police officer, and the rest of the vice squad that comes in to make the arrest once there is the acceptance of an offer. Typically, the way that investigation would work is that the undercover police officer would be waiting to hear the acceptance of the offer by the suspect. Then, the undercover officer will typically ask the suspect to meet them around the corner, for example, and when the unsuspecting person drives the car around the corner, the police are there waiting to make the arrest. The police officers are usually out of sight somewhere away from the undercover officer, which is why the undercover officer would ask the person to drive around the corner.

What does the prosecution needs to prove in a prostitution or solicitation case?

Shawn Sukumar: The sole evidence in most solicitation cases is the undercover officer’s witness testimony. In most situations, the officers who actually make the arrest are not present for the conversation in which the offer is made and accepted.They don’t have direct knowledge of the conversation, so usually the undercover officer will go back to the police station to write up a report after an arrest is made that describes what happened and the way the conversation went, and they will have to include details as to the exact way in which the words are spoken because those words are very important. When the prosecutor looks at those reports later on, they will see whether or not there was a clear offer made. In the offer, there has to be some kind of specific sexual act being offered and the undercover officer needs to be explicit that they are talking about a sexual act. The undercover officer also has to be able to show that there was a specific request for money or something of value. For example, sometimes the thing being exchanged is not actual money; it could be jewelry or a car. It has to be an item of value. Sometimes, individuals use slang terms for money, so the prosecutor will look at the inference behind the conversation. They need to figure out the clear implication of what is going on in that situation. The prosecutor will then look at the response from the suspect because there has to be a clear acceptance of the offer. Once there is an acceptance of the offer, they have the evidence they need for a conviction.

How does the city treat prostitution and solicitation cases?

Shawn Sukumar: These cases are always prosecuted but never harshly. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is the prosecution in Washington, DC for these cases, is often willing to work out resolutions that result in the charge getting dismissed without a person being convicted of the crime.