Under Florida law, soliciting prostitution is a serious crime. Florida Statute 796.07(2) sets for the law, making it a crime to “solicit, induce, entire, or procure another to commit prostitution.” It is also a crime to purchase the services of anyone engaged in prostitution. Florida Statute 796.07(1) defines prostitution as giving or receiving of the body for sexual activity for hire, providing that the individuals involved are not married to each other. The statute also excludes any sexual acts “done for bona fide medical purposes.”
What is Sexual Activity?
The statute defines sexual activity as including “oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another; anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object; or the handling or fondling of the sexual organ of another for the purpose of masturbation.” In addition to sexual acts, the statute also criminalizes lewdness, which is defined as “any indecent or obscene act.” That language is so vague that it could be challenged as unconstitutional.
On occasion, the police conduct “sting” operations in which an undercover police officer pose as a prostitute. For example, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, in six days in September 2012, the one Florida Police Department arrested thirty-two men on charges of soliciting prostitution from a female police officer, who was undercover, posing as a prostitute. In a scene out of the movies or Law & Order, the undercover officer, who was wearing a hidden microphone, looked for customers from a spot behind a gas station at a major city intersection while a supervising officer monitored the situation from an unmarked police car. Lawyers for the men are arguing that they were entrapped; rather than waiting for the men to approach her and ask for sex, she allegedly went to them and offered to provide oral sex for $30. The lawyers are also moving to dismiss the cases on constitutional due process grounds and challenging evidence and arrests.
What Is At Stake?
The penalties for prostitution can be serious, particularly because multiple offenses can lead to felony charges and even years in jail. A first violation is a misdemeanor of the second degree, which can be punished by a term of imprisonment not exceeding sixty days and a $500 fine. A second violation is a misdemeanor of the first degree, which can be punished by a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year and a fine of $1,000. A third or subsequent violation is a felony of the third degree, which can be punished by a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years and a fine of $5,000. In addition, a person who violates the prohibition on solicitation shall be assessed a $5,000 civil penalty if there is a judicial disposition other than acquittal or dismissal, with $500 going to the circuit court administrator to pay for the costs of treatment-based drug courts and the balance, $4,500, going to the Department of Children and Family Services to fund safe houses.
In addition, a person convicted of soliciting prostitution or any other crime under Fla.
Stat. 796.07, is required to undergo screening for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and, if infected, must undergo treatment, as provided by Florida Statute 796.08. That statute also sets out additional offenses for individuals who, before committing the crime had tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease or had been informed that he could communicate such a disease to another person.
Further, in Tampa, a city ordinance, Section 14-30, provides for impounding cars that are used to facilitate prostitution and lewdness. This ordinance provides for a civil penalty, not a criminal penalty, and also provides a defense in the event that owners were innocent of the offense.
Legal Help for Florida Prostitution Defense
Anyone who is arrested or charged with prostitution should consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer before speaking with the police. There are several defenses to a solicitation charge, including entrapment, so an individual should discuss whether any defenses apply with an experienced criminal defense attorney before making any statements to the police.