Pennsylvania ranks in the top ten states for the highest number of prostitution arrests and the highest number of arrests adjusted for population, according to Britannica. If you’ve suddenly found yourself counted in this statistic because of online activity, you’re likely worried about the consequences to your finances, freedom, and reputation. Don’t face these serious charges alone. Instead, turn to the aggressive and experienced legal team at The Zeiger Firm.
Criminal defense attorney Brian Zeiger has spent nearly 20 years fighting hard for clients like you. He understands the potential consequences of a conviction for online prostitution. He knows how to protect against them. Our firm offers strategic defense and skilled negotiation methods to help achieve reduced charges or penalties. We aren’t afraid to take your case to trial if it becomes the best path to protecting your interests.
You deserve a rigorous defense and protection of your constitutional rights. Contact The Zeiger Firm for a free consultation.
Understanding Online Prostitution Stings in Pennsylvania
A common tactic among law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania to catch suspects for solicitation of prostitution is to use online prostitution stings. These operations usually involve impersonation and electronic surveillance. The courts have permitted these sting operation tactics, provided they adhere to specific guidelines and stay within court-defined limits.
Undercover Police Officers’ Roles
In online prostitution stings, undercover officers play a multifaceted role by assuming the personas of prostitutes or potential clients (“johns”). Law enforcement personnel may use a fake website or enter adult-only chat rooms seeking individuals for online prostitution acts.
Undercover police operations in cyberspace allow them to cast a wider net and address the evolving landscape of illicit activities facilitated through the internet.
Legal Tactics Used by Law Enforcement
In these online prostitution stings, law enforcement officers do not play a passive role or act as observers waiting for a client to offer or request sex in exchange for money. Instead, police officers adopt false identities in which they chat, text, send photos, or email suspects in conversations or transactions that are incriminating or illegal. Police use these audio or visual recordings as evidence they turn over to prosecutors.
However, police cannot legally actively entice someone into committing a crime. While officers can use pretense and deceit up to a point, crossing a certain line can give way to entrapment.
Pennsylvania’s Wire Tap Act
The Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, commonly called Pennsylvania’s WireTap Act, establishes what police can and cannot do within an online sting operation. The law governs the use of electronic surveillance and the interception of communications by law enforcement. Police officers must adhere to its specific legal procedures when deploying online prostitution sting tactics. For example, they cannot suggest that the action they’re inducing is legal or overstep from the inducement of a crime into outright coercion. Otherwise, they might cross the line between preventing crime and violating civil liberties.
Legal Charges and Penalties in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 18 § 5902(e), prosecutors may charge a person with patronizing prostitutes if they hire a prostitute or any other person to engage in sexual activity with them. An individual is subject to arrest even if the actual sexual activity or monetary transaction does not occur. Instead, a person can be found guilty of the offense if there is a verbal or online agreement.
These charges apply whether the solicitation is online, over the phone, via text, email, or in person.
Potential Charges from Online Sex Crimes
The severity of penalties for online sex crimes varies based on the degree of the crime, the defendant’s criminal record, the age of the participants, and other factors. The classification of charges for prostitution or solicitation includes:
- First or second offense: Third-degree misdemeanor
- Third offense: Second-degree misdemeanor
- Fourth or subsequent offense: First-degree misdemeanor
- Alleged offender aware of transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or positive or manifesting acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS):
- Third-degree felony, regardless of number of offenses
Severity of Penalties
If convicted of an internet sex crime involving online prostitution, the sentence guidelines vary, depending on the charge. The possible penalties include:
- Third-degree misdemeanor: Up to one year imprisonment and a maximum $2,500 fine
- Second-degree misdemeanor: Maximum sentence of two years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000
- First-degree misdemeanor: Up to five years imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000
- Third-degree felony: Maximum prison sentence of seven years and a fine of up to $15,000
- Second or subsequent solicitation offense: The convicted individual pays for publishing of the sentence in a newspaper within the court’s judicial district
In addition to prison time and hefty fines, a person may face other internet sex crime charges if the offense involves minors, such as child sexual abuse or child pornography, if the prostitute sent sexually explicit images during the communication exchange. If convicted of certain sexual offenses, the defendant may be subject to sex offender registration.
Specific Pennsylvania Laws Pertaining to Online Prostitution
Pennsylvania has specific statutes that address prostitution and related offenses. These include statutes within Megan’s Law:
- Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18 Pa.C.S.A. Crimes and Offenses § 5902: Prostitution, Promoting Prostitution, and Promoting Prostitution of a Minor
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 2902(b): Unlawful Restraint
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 2903(b): False Imprisonment
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 2910: Luring a Child into a Motor Vehicle or Structure
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 3011(a)(1) and (2): Trafficking
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 3013: Patronizing a Victim of Sexual Servitude
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.2(a): Institutional Sexual Assault
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126(a)(1): Indecent Assault
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 6301(a)(1)(ii): Corruption of Minors
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 6312(d): Sexual Abuse of Children
- 18 Pa.C.S. § 7507.1: Invasion of Privacy
Legal Defenses Against Charges from Sting Operations
The Zeiger Firm has the experience and knowledge to defend those facing charges stemming from an online prostitution sting. We assess the specific circumstances of your case to determine the best possible defenses, which might involve any of the following.
The consent defense argues that the alleged offenders acted in agreement and with mutual consent. If the individuals engaged in the activity willingly and without coercion, the defense may claim that there was no criminal intent or wrongdoing.
An alibi defense claims that the accused was elsewhere when the alleged prostitution occurred. You can support an alibi defense with surveillance footage, witness statements, time and date-stamped receipts, and other documentation.
Mistake of Fact
The mistake of fact defense states that the accused had a genuine and reasonable belief that they were not committing an illegal act or that their actions did not involve prostitution.
Entrapment is a critical defense for online sting operation charges. An entrapment defense argues that an undercover police officer induced or persuaded an individual to commit a crime that they were not predisposed to commit.
Contact an Online Prostitution Defense Attorney
If you face sex crime charges in Pennsylvania, you need strong legal representation on your side. Fight back with the help of The Zeiger Firm. We will guide you through the criminal defense process with experience and compassion, protecting your rights, freedoms, and reputation along the way. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation.