Online Prostitution Sting OperationsFebruary 20, 2021
Statistics show that tens of thousands of individuals are placed under arrest for prostitution-related activities every year in the United States. While the traditional view of a prostitution arrest involves a woman offering sexual acts for money, Pennsylvania criminal law sets out a number of criminal offenses related to prostitution that may result in arrest. These offenses include soliciting or patronizing a prostitute, entering a building intending to engage in prostitution-related activities, promoting prostitution (commonly known as pandering or pimping), and more. Almost anyone who is believed to be even remotely involved with a prostitution ring or in prostitution-related acts will often be arrested and charged with a serious crime in Philadelphia.
In addition to simply arresting individuals that police officers observe engaging in prostitution on the street, law enforcement agencies have other resources to seek out and arrest potential prostitution suspects. One of these resources is the undercover operation, often called a “sting” operation. Undercover officers have long been posing on the streets as either prostitutes or “johns” in order to catch other individuals in criminal activity. These sting operations have been allowed by the courts as long as they follow certain guidelines and stay within certain limits set by the courts.
In recent years, law enforcement has extended its undercover operations to the Internet to try to catch people believed to be engaging in prostitution. Such online operations have resulted in thousands of arrests, including prominent politicians or even police chiefs who were unknowingly seeking out sex online, as well as uncovering extensive prostitution rings.
The nature of online operations
In this technological age, many people look to websites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist.org for postings—often in code—that advertise or seek services related to prostitution. Police officers simply post false ads on these websites and wait for an unsuspecting individual to reply. An undercover officer will then typically arrange a meeting with the prospective customer, which usually takes place in a hotel or apartment that has been wired for audio or video and with other law enforcement officers waiting in the next room or unit. The undercover officer will talk to the customer to make sure to record what they are looking for and then will usually request that they put the money that would theoretically be exchanged for sexual acts on the table or nightstand. Once the money is handed over, the undercover officer will generally give a signal for the other police to come in and arrest the individual. The evidence against the individual is generally quite strong since they are usually recorded making the agreement for prostitution.
Is this entrapment?
Many people mistakenly believe that they can allege entrapment in any case stemming from an undercover operation. Unfortunately, this is not the case and, even though some cases do rise to the level of entrapment, many do not. Entrapment occurs when a law enforcement officer persuades or induces someone to commit a crime when they otherwise would not have committed the offense. However, most undercover prostitution stings involve simple ads to which individuals voluntarily respond and do not involve an officer actually convincing the suspect to engage in prostitution. Therefore, in many cases, entrapment is not a valid legal defense.
There are always some exceptions, however, and some cases involving online sting operations do rise to the level of entrapment. For example, if you responded to an online ad and simply wanted to communicate online or on the phone, and the undercover officer actively persuaded you to meet up for sexual acts in exchange for money, you may be able to successfully raise entrapment to have your charges dismissed. At times, there is a fine line between valid sting operations and entrapment, so you always want an experienced attorney who is familiar with these legal issues to evaluate your case.
Seek out the help of an experienced attorney
An experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney can help you whether or not your prostitution charges stemmed from an undercover police operation. A subsequent prostitution-related conviction can have serious consequences. Not only can you face fines, probation, or even time in jail, but you will likely suffer damage to your reputation both professionally and personally. In order to limit the penalties you face or to avoid a conviction altogether, your first call should be to a highly skilled criminal defense lawyer at the Zeiger Firm in Philadelphia. Brian Zeiger had extensive experience successfully defending a wide variety of criminal cases, so please call today at 215-546-0340 to schedule a consultation.