In Dallas, You Can Get Charged with Prostitution for Having a Conversation

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There was a time, about a century ago, when prostitution was perfectly legal in Dallas at least so long as it took place in Frogtown, the city's official red-light district. It was a decidedly pragmatic way of dealing with the world's oldest profession, but it wouldn't last. The state's Supreme Court shut it down after a few years, and the city, like pretty much everywhere else, gradually adopted a more punitive approach to the sex trade.

The pendulum now seems to be swinging back away from punishment, with Dallas County's pioneering prostitution diversion initiative attempting to funnel women into treatment rather than jail. The program is now primed to go statewide.

The program's goals and outcomes are laudable, but its success is built on a constitutionally ambiguous premise.

See also
- Guilty Look: In Dallas, Chatting on a Street Corner Can Get You in Trouble
- Dallas Cops Showcased a Treatment-Centered Approach to Prostitution Last Night, Which They Hope Can Be a Model for the Nation

Before they enroll in the program, women have to be arrested first, which typically happens during monthly sweeps of truck stops along the Interstate 20 corridor. No problem there. Some of the women are taken into custody after soliciting undercover vice cops. No problem there, either. When you take money from a cop in exchange for sex, he has plenty of probable cause.

The majority of the women, though, aren't actually caught performing sex acts for money, nor are they caught offering to do so. Most are arrested on a charge of "manifesting for the purpose of prostitution," which is where things get weird.

Take the alleged prostitute and john who were arrested early Wednesday morning. A couple of beat cops (not part of the prostitution-diversion efforts) were on patrol in South Dallas at about 1 a.m. when they spotted the woman walk up to the man in the Chevy pickup that had stopped near the intersection of Malcolm X Boulevard and Hatcher Street.

Nothing happened, according to a police report. The woman stood by the man's window and they talked until she spotted the cops and walked away. But the officers suspected the woman of being a prostitute and interviewed the man and woman separately. She said she'd just been giving the man directions. He said he'd just given her a ride from a nearby store.

The police bought neither story and ticketed both for, as the police report puts it, being "engaged in conversation in high-prostitution area."

That seems like an incredibly flimsy reason for a criminal charge, but it's been on the books since the 1970s. Beckoning to people and trying to stop passersby also qualify as crimes under the city's manifestation ordinance. No sex or exchange of money necessary.

It's not entirely clear whether the provision adheres to the constitutional ban on unreasonable search and seizure, which requires police to have probable cause before placing someone under arrest. A lengthy piece that appeared in Salon in 2010 suggests that defendants tend to prevail in such cases but only if they challenge their citations in court, something they rarely do.

And the Observer ran a piece back in 2004 questioning the legality of Dallas' ordinance. (There's one for drug dealing, too.) A city prosecutor defended it by saying it helps fight crime and has never been found unconstitutional. "And they've certainly been there awaiting any sort of challenge."

It's undoubtedly a good thing that police and prosecutors are using these citations as leverage to guide women off the streets rather than merely as punishment. But is it a good thing that someone can be picked up on a prostitution charge for talking to someone in a high-prostitution area? Hard to say.

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53 comments
Obummer
Obummer

Yo as long as Sandra Fluke be get’in her free birf controls pills what diff’ do it make?

 

amanuesis
amanuesis

I find it absolutely bizarre that we are still arresting and ticketing people for the "crime" of prostitution, when its perfectly legal to engage in the activity if its free. Who cares if John gives Sheila a ten spot for a hummer? Would it be legal if the hummer were free and the ten spot were for throwing out his fast food bag? When is our society gonna grow the hell up and stop worrying about whether or not john pays to get his rocks off?

CornynFellatinSatan
CornynFellatinSatan

Where is the extreme moral outrage at the existence of this law?

Personnel (with any conscience) assigned to enforce this evil Sharia-like ordinance must live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance regarding the propriety of their role (or perhaps they continually contemplate suicide at having their noble profession exploited for such an ignoble, heinous, and immoral instance of government overreach.)  The only other possibility is that they have entered the profession with great specificity in this purpose (of enforcing evil laws and advancing the Cause of Darkness).

This should cause everyone who values legitimate liberty to be alarmed.

CornynFellatinSatan
CornynFellatinSatan

Collectivism requires the creation of insane laws to continue to line the pockets of government employees and help expand the "Dependency Society" many "conservatives" claim to be concerned about.

CornynFellatinSatan
CornynFellatinSatan

Who wrote this law?  Only a mind and heart dedicated to the love and worship of Satan could come up with law against having a conversation in an area frequented by prostitutes.  By extension every geographical area in America within a block of any legislative body would fall under the umbrella of this statute.  Once again, social "conservatives" prove they are "conservative" about everything except taxpayer money.  Clever work, Lucifer!

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

Chalk this one up to the Evangelical Republicans.  They see the American style of dating as something disgusting - worthy of a prison sentence.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I lived in Houston for several years AND I can honestly say from experience, 'Texans' ARE socially challenged to the educated nation . Someone has to pick up the dog shit in our parks, or would we really need Texas ???

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

Did the cops run outta young black teens to victimize ? 

Time to 'show dem' Hos' !!!

OldYellr
OldYellr

These people are clearly guilty.  Men do not stop and ask for directions.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Texas DESERVES this kind of Un-American Fascism.


halldecker
halldecker

when I was in law school in the 70's we tried to take "Manifesting for Purposes of Prostitution" (known in the trade as the three-wave rule,  if a woman waves at a male driver three times,  she's presumed a prostitute) and the "loitering" ordinance to the Supremes.  Poured out at the Supremes 'cause in the two years it took to get it that far along our client had disappeared.

Loitering itself,   outlawed in a landmark case in '72.  


Ours forbade "going from place to place and back again,  lagging behind,  walking aimlessly ..."   So,  be damn cautious,  OK?


scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

rather than 4th Amendment, it seems the First pertains, "Freedom of Assembly"

Obummer
Obummer

Yo that’s not right!

Bobtex
Bobtex

"But is it a good thing that someone can be picked up on a prostitution charge for talking to someone in a high-prostitution area? Hard to say."

No it's not hard to say.  And don't tell me that the ends justify the means. This is why we have the Bill of Rights.  This is why we place limits on what the government can do to us.  Even when, especially when, they say it is for our own good, we still must insist on keeping those lines in place.  Whether the victims are alleged prostitutes, or homeless people, or kids acting like kids, the government needs to follow the rules.  We pride ourselves on the supremacy of the "Rule of Law" throughout the world, yet we hypocriticallly trash the "Rule of Law" when it comes to our most vulernable populations.  Shame on the City of Dallas, and its law enforcement apparatus, for violating their constitutional duties.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Another reason why Texas sucks.


Todd Deatherage
Todd Deatherage

Is that like being a fascist and you laugh at human skin lampshades with tattoos of "M

Bernard Schreiber
Bernard Schreiber

If a prostitute talks to you and you see a cop, shoot her. Shooting a prostitute is okay in TX.

Todd Deatherage
Todd Deatherage

DPD goes from being hyper-enforcing the streets to careless. Depends on what kind of convention is in town. I used to work at a restaurant bar on West NW Hwy, in 1984. The Republican Convention was in town. Some of our best customers were of, what should I say, ill repute? About a day or two before the advance teams were coming in, the Vice squad made a sweep and jailed a bunch of them and denied them bail. All but this older pimp named James and his crew. He was well connected, well behaved, and even the Republicans need their services from time to time.

Nathan Savage
Nathan Savage

I can only see this as justified if the police put signs on every corner saying high prostitution area like around jails that say don't pick up hitchhikers...while most are usually up to no good, walking in a bad area isn't a crime

observist
observist topcommenter

They're lucky they just got arrested for talking about prostitution, since they were actually planning a terrorist attack.

Pat Scales
Pat Scales

I guess DPD uses the most expansive form of the definition for the term 'intercourse'!

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

The cops admit to interviewing the 2. So they egaged in a conversation in a high prostitution area. There's the defense...utterly crap vague language, ripe for selective enforv ement and abuse.

Hulon_Pate
Hulon_Pate

If you want a Hooker just go to any Bottle Service joint in town. 

Eli Browning
Eli Browning

DUDE. In 2003 when I moved to Worth and Fitzhugh at the tender age of 18, I made the excellent decision to walk to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes at 11 pm after work. I was swiftly handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car, degraded and interrogated for three hours. ALL WHILE STILL WEARING MY OLIVE GARDEN UNIFORM. Years later, I finally understand why. Apparently since I was outside, in a high crime area, female, and someone yelled something at me from a truck driving by (to which I responded "fuck off or I'll pepper spray you"), I was a prostitute.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Do the cops use this as a pretext two arrest two men talking to each other or two women talking to each other?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

"city prosecutor defended it by saying it helps fight crime and has never been found unconstitutional."  Pretty sure thats because the city wont take it that far, to collect a $300 fine or whatever it is.

keithdylan
keithdylan

Glad all other crime has been eradicated.

StupidHippies
StupidHippies

Ride your bike down there, start up some conversation, get popped and take it to SCOTUS. Come on Eric. Be a real reporter. 

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

@CornynFellatinSatan its over freedoms gone...it briefly existed in this country for only white men, but now its gone..unless your really wealthy and lucky

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@bvckvs you get no argument from me on this one.  When you're right, you're right.

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@halldecker ... should have taken the Cops to court on "Manifesting for Purposes of Fascism"


scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@Bernard Schreiber I don't know what that is

JSSS
JSSS

So I was going to make some sort of rude comment, then I clicked on your picture.  Now all I can say is thanks to you, and your friend, for your service. I hate it when reality intrudes on the internet.

gregmarcydagama
gregmarcydagama

@StupidHippies That is an excellent idea! Performance journalism at its finest. Gut it up! Speak to your editor, Eric! :)

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@Americano = typical Repug Texan, blames others for his own mistakes, promotes running away from problems.


DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin 

{{{ cue Giant Sucking Sound }}}

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