Activists are protesting, officials believe it is unconstitutional and Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers fully believe that the proposed "prostitution-free zones" will be struck down because they are far too broad and will open up the District to many legal challenges.
The controversial bill that would allow local police officers to set up what they deem prostitution-free zones was recently heard by council members. It would give police the power to detain and arrest people they suspect are engaged in street prostitution.
This bill is being proposed in response to the rise of prostitution arrests in Washington D.C. WTOP reported last fall. While arrest numbers are down, prostitution isn't.
But how could this law possibly be legal? First of all, it would give police the power to detain and arrest people with little proof that a crime was committed. If you are walking down the street in the wrong part of town or have a conversation with someone in the early hours of the morning, all of a sudden you're considered a John. What happens if you are a woman walking down the street late at night? Does that automatically make you a prostitute if you're in one of these "zones?"
Gay activists said they are planning to fight the bill, saying that it allows police to target some sectors of the community, but that takes away from the real crime that is going on throughout the District, WAMU is reporting.
On the other hand, The Washington Post reports that the D.C. Attorney General's Office recently said that the proposed bill is likely unconstitutional, which raises doubts that the council will be able to act on this proposal anyway.
In these zones, police can make arrests for up to 24 consecutive days if two or more people congregate in certain neighborhoods and ignore orders to disperse. That means that anyone hanging out, playing basketball, talking, or otherwise socializing can be arrested under these overly broad rules.
Based on the backlash, some believe that making these temporary zones permanent or expanding them is unlikely. People have a right to loiter so long as they are not intending to commit a crime.
Washington D.C. criminal defense lawyers are hopeful that council members come to their senses and recognize the problems that this law makes for its residents. Combating prostitution is a novel idea, but doing so by trampling on individual rights isn't going to happen.
Being charged with soliciting for sex or being a prostitute can bring great shame to a person and their family. Not only that, it can result in up to 90 days in jail and $500 in fines for a first-time offender. Minimizing the embarrassment of an arrest, which can include work and family problems, is often a top priority. A lawyer can work toward a quick and less-damaging resolution if the defendant acts quickly.