Can Texas Punish You Twice for a Single Act of Prostitution?

April 10th, 2017 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense

When it comes to pursuing sex crimes, such as voluntary transactions like prostitution and solicitation, Texas prosecutors take aggressive actions. Defendants can be charged with multiple independent offenses based off of one single transaction. Courts in Texas generally permits staking charges.

State, City Prostitution Laws Have Different “Focus”

You probably know the U.S. Constitution forbids “double jeopardy.” Specifically, the Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be “subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This means that once you are tried and found guilty or not guilty, the state cannot try or punish you again for the same offense.

In reality, double jeopardy is not quite that simple. Many crimes violate both Texas and federal law, meaning you can be tried twice for the same act, albeit in different courts. For example, prostitution involving children is both a state and a federal crime.

But what about sex crimes that violate both a state law and a city ordinance? Many Texas cities, including Houston, have ordinances that prohibit “loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution,” i.e. standing on a street corner looking to pick up clients. Is it double jeopardy to try a person separately on city and state prostitution charges?

According to one recent Texas appeals court decision, the answer is no. This particular case comes from San Antonio, which has a “loitering” ordinance similar to the one in Houston. Here, a female defendant was separately charged in the San Antonio Municipal Court with loitering with intent to commit prostitution, and in the Bexar County Court with criminal prostitution. She pleaded “no contest” in the Municipal Court case and received a deferred disposition–after successfully completing a term of probation, the court will dismiss the loitering charge.

The defendant then argued the still-pending criminal case in County Court constituted double jeopardy. A Texas appeals court disagreed. Even though both laws deal with prostitution, the court said they do not have a “common focus.” The city ordinance is designed “to protect the public from being exposed to those engaged in prostitution,” while the state law “has no requirement that the conduct occur in public.” In other words, prostitution that occurs in a hotel room would violate the state law but not the city ordinance, therefore they are not the same offense.

Have You Been Arrested for Prostitution?

A prostitution arrest is potentially devastating. A conviction may render a person a felon and require them to register as a sex offender. That is why you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who understands how to investigate and manage sex crimes cases. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with an attorney right away.

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