Is prostitution still a crime in King County, WA?
Yes. Prostitution is illegal, and is strictly defined as exchanging or agreeing to exchange a sex act for money or other item of value, like drugs. It is a simple misdemeanor, with a maximum possible punishment of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. There is no mandatory minimum sentence. Prostitution, as defined above, is not currently a law enforcement emphasis, as the seller of sex is modernly looked upon as a victim.
What other prostitution criminal offenses are there?
1. Promoting Prostitution in the First Degree:
You are guilty of promoting prostitution in the first degree, a class B felony, if you knowingly advance prostitution by:
- Compelling a person by threat or force to engage in prostitution
- Compelling a person with a mental incapacity or developmental disability that renders the person incapable of consent to engage in prostitution, or
- Profiting from prostitution that results from either of the above.
This is also known as “pimping.” The maximum possible punishment is ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The presumptive sentence range is 21 – 27 months in prison with no prior felony convictions.
2. Promoting Prostitution in the Second Degree:
A less serious class C felony, you are guilty if you knowingly:
- Advance (cause or aid) prostitution (not through the use of threat or force), or
- Profit from prostitution
The maximum possible punishment is 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The presumptive sentence range is 1 – 3 months in jail, with no prison felony conviction.
3. Promoting Travel for Prostitution:
It is a class C felony to offer or sell travel services when the purpose of the travel is to engage in what would be patronizing a prostitute if the behavior took place within Washington state. Similar punishment maximum to #2 above, with no presumptive sentence range.
4. Permitting Prostitution:
It is a misdemeanor to permit prostitution in a building that you have possession or control of (this includes places that you rent, own, or reside in), if you know about the prostitution and do nothing to stop it. Maximum possible punishment is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, with no mandatory minimum.
5. Patronizing a Prostitute:
It is also against the law to solicit (offer to exchange money for sex) or patronize (buy sex from) a prostitute; or to pay a third person to set up these activities. This is a misdemeanor also with a maximum possible punishment of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Modernly, the buyer (commonly known as the “john”) has become the focus of law enforcement.
Can I expect jail time if I am caught seeking to pay for sex?
For a first offense, it is more likely that one will get alternative structure and conditions. It is possible to get jail time for a first offense, but much more likely for a second offense.
If I am arrested for patronizing or other prostitution criminal offenses what should I do?
The most important thing you can remember if you have been arrested or contacted by law enforcement for questioning, is to NOT GIVE A STATEMENT OF ANY KIND. Politely decline to answer ANY questions. Let them know that you will be in contact with your attorney and do not wish to provide any information at this time. If you have been arrested, immediately request to speak with your attorney. If you have not retained counsel at the time of your arrest, you may ask to speak with a public defender.
As soon as you are contacted by law enforcement or released after an arrest, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. DO NOT WAIT. Many people wait until they have been charged with a crime. Your best opportunity to have the case dismissed outright will have come and gone if charges are already filed. There is much that can be done to put you in a better position while a case is being investigated and is in “pre-charge” status.