Prostitution Penal Code 647(b)PC- Winning Defense Strategies
Every day defendants across Southern California are arrested for prostitution in violation of Penal Code section 647(b). At Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP our motto is never plea to P.C. 647b! There are so many defenses to this crime and most cases are so poorly investigated, that it is almost always worth to fight the case in a jury trial.
A Winning Track Record
Criminal defense attorneys Justin Strassburg and William Gilmore have a winning track record in taking prostitution cases to jury trial. They have handled over 50 prostitution Penal Code 647(b) cases in Los Angeles County and Orange County. They have a 94% success rate in getting the 647(b) charge dismissed by either settlement or winning at jury trial.
Criminal Jury Trial Victory. January 2012- Justin Strassburg represented the defendant in a prosecution for prostitution 647(b). The case involved an undercover investigation of prostitution at a massage parlor. A vice operation was performed by a team of 9 police officers from the LAPD. Mr. Strassburg's cross-examination of the main vice detective discredited him in front of the jury: particularly concerning his recollection of the conversation with the defendant, and his failure to use an audio recording device during the operation. After deliberating for only 1 hour and 15 minutes, the jury reached a unanimous verdict of "NOT GUILTY." After the trial, out in the hallway of the Court, the jurors voiced their displeasure with the Los Angeles City Attorney's office, calling the prosecution of this case "outrageous" and "ridiculous."
Los Angeles Superior Court, Van Nuys Courthouse, before Hon. Alan Schneider
Criminal Jury Trial Victory. February 2011- Justin Strassburg represented the lead defendant in a multi-defendant criminal trial. The case involved the investigation of human trafficking and a prostitution ring. An undercover investigation was performed by the vice unit of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. The jury trial lasted 8 days. Three sheriff's deputies testified under oath, that they witnessed criminal violations occur in their presence during the course of the undercover operation. Mr. Strassburg's cross-examination revealed serious inconsistencies with the deputies' testimony, particularly he was able to impeach two deputies concerning their failure to mark, track, and retrieve the "buy money," which discredited them in front of the jury. After deliberating for only 2 hours and 30 minutes, the jury reached a unanimous verdict of "NOT GUILTY" against all defendants on all charges. The defendants were acquitted.
Los Angeles Superior Court, El Monte Courthouse, before Hon. Commmissioner Jose Rodriguez
Criminal Jury Trial Victory. July 2010- Justin Strassburg represented the defendant who was charged with Lewd Conduct in Public and Prostitution. The case was investigated by a team of officers from the vice division of the Torrance Police Department. After a four day jury trial, 9 jurors voted "NOT GUILTY", and all charges were dismissed.
Los Angeles Superior Court, Torrance Courthouse, before Hon. Commmissioner Brad Fox
Criminal Jury Trial Victory. April 2009 - Our client a local massuse was wrongfully accused of prostitution by two undercover sherrifs. Even after sworn testimony from two Los Angeles County Sherrifs the jury deadlocked due to the defense presented by William R. Gilmore. The District Attorney dropped all charges.
Los Angeles Superior Court, Alhambra, before Hon. Judge Applegate
Criminal Jury Trial Victory. June 2008- Two Rosemead massage therapists were charged with prostitution and hired Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP. William R. Gilmore defended them in jury trial. Mr. Gilmore vigorsly cross-examined the undercover officer, and revealed that the officer could not even identify the clients. The prosecution dropped all charges in the middle of trial.
Los Angeles Superior Court, Alhambra Branch, before Hon. Judge Mildred Escobedo
Criminal Jury Trial Victory. February 2008- Justin K. Strassburg represented a massuse who was accused of prostitution by an undercover officer. Even though the police officer got on the stand and told the jury that he saw the defendant committing an act of prostition, Mr. Strassburg was able to convince 8 out of 12 jurors that the People did not have enough evidence to convict her. This resulted in a hung jury and the Judge dismissed the case.
Orange County Superior Court, Westminster Courthouse, before Hon. Judge John Watson
What is the Crime of Prostitution?
Prostitution is sexual intercourse or lewd acts between persons for money or other consideration. Penal Code 647(b). A violation of PC 647b can be established in three main ways: 1) Engaging in an act of Prostitution; 2) Soliciting another to engage in an act of prostitution; and 3) Agreeing to engage in an act of Prostitution.
In order to establish a violation the District Attorney or City Attorney would have to prove the following:
- Engaging in an act of Prostitution
The DA must prove that the defendant willfully engaged in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with someone else in exchange for money. A lewd act means touching the genitals, buttocks, or female breast of either the prostitute or customer with some part of the other person’s body for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification of either person.
Soliciting another to engage in an act of Prostitution
1. The Defendant request that another person engage in an act of prostitution; AND
2. The defendant intended to engage in an act of prostitution with the other person; AND
3. The other person received the communication containing the request.
Agreeing to engage in an act of Prostitution
1. The defendant agreed to engage in an act of prostitution with someone else;
2. The defendant intended to engage in an act of prostitution with someone else; AND
3. In addition to agreeing the defendant did something to further the commission of an act of prostitution.
Common Scenarios - Massage Parlors
In recent years massage parlors are increasingly being targeted by law enforcement for undercover prostitution sting investigations. These result in the arrest of hundreds of innocent masseuses and many of their customers. Often the police scour Craigslist or other online advertising trying to determine target massage parlors.
The sting will go like this: An undercover vice officer will enter the massage parlor pretending to be a customer. He will ask for a massage and pay the initial fee. During the course of the massage the officer will ask the masseuse if she will engage in a sexual act with him. If the officer believes that the masseuse has agreed to engage in an act with him or even performed, or attempted to perform, a sexual act on him, he will call in his back up and arrest the masseuse.
Often if other customers are in the massage parlor they will be questioned and arrested as well.
Common Scenarios - Street Arrests
Undercover operations are also performed to attempt to arrest the street walking prostitutes and their customers. Sometimes a female officer will impersonate a prostitute and engage in conversations with customers. She will agree with them to perform an act of prostitution and then the customer is arrested. Sometimes the reverse happens and the undercover officer pretends to be a customer and makes agreements with the suspected prostitutes.
Common Scenarios - Apartments
The narcotics and vice division of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has recently been performing many undercover operations targeting prostitution rings that operate out of apartments or condos.
The vice detective will call a telephone number listed on backpage.com or other online erotic advertising service. The detective will then be given an address and told to call when he arrives.
The vice detective goes into the apartment, wearing an electronic monitoring device so his security team outside can hear what’s going on in the apartment. The detective then usually gets fully nude with the alleged prostitute and asks for a massage. Then a price is negotiated for intercourse sometimes known as “full service.” The bust signal is then given and everyone in the apartment is arrested. The girls are charged with prostitution PC 647(b) and the owner of the apartment is charged with Penal Code 266(h), this is commonly known as pimping.
Some defenses to the crime of prostitution are as follows:
1. Failure to record conversations: Prostitution is usually a crime of words i.e. an arrest may be made based on a verbal agreement to commit a sexual act. In both massage parlor and street arrest cases the undercover officers are usually wearing wires. However, they often fail to record the very conversations which form the basis for the arrest. This fact calls into question whether or not the conversation occurs as they said it did. They had the power to record it but chose not too.
2. He said/She said: Crimes must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. If there are two versions of events which both makes sense and one points to innocence the verdict must be not guilty. If the accused says that no agreement to commit an act of prostitution occurred and an officer says it did and the Jury believes both the verdict must be not guilty.
3. Failure to collect and preserve physical evidence: Particularly in massage parlor cases officers testify that they found various indications of prostitution on the premises i.e. condoms, ledgers, video cameras, advertisements etc. If they fail to gather this evidence in bring it into Court their credibility is called into question.
4. Suppression Motions: Sometimes prostitution investigations involve an illegal search and seizure and suppression motion can be made pursuant to Penal Code 647b. This happens in massage parlor cases when police search the premises or closed rooms of the premises without warrants. This can lead to a partial or total dismissal of the charges.
Immigration Consequences Many non-United States citizens are arrested for Penal Code 647(b). Prostitution is considered a “crime of moral turpitude” and can lead to a non-United States Citizen being deported from or denied entry to this Country. That is why it is essential to get qualified representation from a criminal defense law firm like Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP. It almost never makes sense of a non-United States Citizen to plead guilty to Penal Code 647b. Often times a plea bargain to different crime such as massage without license or disturbing the peace can be arranged which will have no immigration consequences.
Some common alternative pleas are:
- Massage without license: A violation of the local municipal code governing masseuses such as Los Angeles Municipal Code section 103.205.1(b);
- Disturbing the Peace: Penal Code 415;
- Trespass: Penal Code 602
As stated above some possible plea bargains to avoid a conviction for Penal Code 647b are massage without license pursuant Los Angeles Municipal Code section 103.205.1(b) or a similar municipal code or Penal Code 415 disturbing the peace. Sometimes these crimes can be pled to as infractions meaning that there is no misdemeanor conviction, i.e. jaywalking is an infraction.
In some instances deferred entry of judgment programs may also be available. With a deferred entry of judgment a Defendant may plead guilty, perform certain obligations and then return to Court, withdraw the guilty plea and have the charge dismissed.
Massage Without License
Sometimes masseuses are charged only with massage without license. Often this is the result of confusion with the licensing requirements of various cities. As practicing masseuses it is important to our clients that they keep their licenses and we will fight these cases in Court.
Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei are experienced criminal defense attorneys. We are located in Pasadena but can help people all over Los Angles County, Orange County, Riverside County, Ventura County and San Diego County. We have attorneys who handle cases in Pasadena, Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Alhambra, El Monte Pomona, Whittier, Compton, East Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Van Nuys, San Fernando and Norwalk.