Understanding the Law of Prostitution in New York: Prostitution, Promoting Prostitution,and Patronizing a Prostitute (Penal Law Chapter 230).

The world’s oldest profession is still illegal in New York.  What many people do not realize, however, is that prostitutes, pimps (or madams), and johns can all be arrested and convicted under New York state law without any sexual conduct taking place or any money exchanging hands.  The state laws concerning prostitution in New York are contained in Penal Law Chapter 230.

The most basic crime in this chapter is Prostitution, under Penal Law Section 230.00.  A person is guilty of this Class B misdemeanor when he or she “engages or agrees or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in return for a fee.”  Thus, it is important to recognize that it makes no difference whether the accused actually received money or engaged in any sexual act – indeed, the mere offer of sexual services for money is just as serious under this section.  Also, notably, the definition of “sexual conduct” (defined in Penal Law Section 130.00[3] and 130.00[10]) includes sexual intercourse, oral sexual conduct, anal sexual conduct, aggravated sexual contact, and sexual contact).  Put plainly, the laws of this chapter apply to virtually all and any sexual touching of any kind.

On the flip side, a john that pays or offers to pay for sexual services of any kind is also guilty of at least the Class B misdemeanor of Penal Law 230.03 (Patronizing a Prostitute in the Fourth Degree).  This crime can be a more serious felony where the prostitutes are underage.  At one time, it was a defense to these more serious charges that the john did not have a reasonable cause to believe that the prostitute was underage (under the repealed Penal Law Section 230.07), but as Lawrence Taylor recently discovered, it is no longer a defense.

Finally, promoting prostitution, or “pimping,” as it is sometimes referred to, is illegal under Penal Law Section 230.20.  That Class A misdemeanor, Promoting Prostitution in the Fourth Degree, makes it illegal to knowingly advance or profit from prostitution.  Under Penal Law Section 230.15, a person “advances prostitution” when, acting other than as a prostitute or as a patron thereof, he or she knowingly causes or aids a person to commit or engage in prostitution, procures or solicits patrons for prostitution, provides persons or premises for prostitution purposes, operates or assists in the operation of a house of prostitution or a prostitution enterprise, or engages in any other conduct designed to institute, aid or facilitate an act or enterprise of prostitution.  A person “profits from prostitution” when, acting other than as a prostitute receiving compensation for personally rendered prostitution services, he or she accepts or receives money or other property pursuant to an agreement or understanding with any person whereby he participates or is to participate in the proceeds of prostitution activity.

Promoting prostitution is actually more serious than prostitution itself, in that regular Prostitution is a B misdemeanor (punishable by up to 90 days in jail), whereas Promoting Prostitution is an A misdemeanor (punishable by up to 1 year in jail).  The charges pertaining to promoting prostitution can be felonies depending on whether certain aggravating factors are present.  For example, Promoting Prostitution in the Third Degree (Penal Law 230.20, a Class D felony) involves two or more prostitutes being promoted or a prostitute under the age of 19.  Promoting Prostitution in the Second Degree (Penal Law 230.30, a Class C felony) applies where the prostitute is under 16 years of age or where coercive force or intimidation is used on the prostitute.  Promoting Prostitution in the First Degree (Penal Law 230.32, a Class B felony), applies to situations in which the prostitute is less than 11 years old.

Law enforcement devotes significant resources towards combating these crimes. Specially-trained Vice Squad officers frequently pose as prostitutes or johns in an effort to arrest individuals suspected of committing these crimes.  They have been known to frequent internet websites and chat-rooms while posing as prostitutes or johns.  They also frequently pursue classified ads in “adult sections” of newspapers like the Village Voice.  If/when the undercover officer meets the suspect in person, they are almost always wearing a recording device.  In those situations, the undercover officer is typically trying to get the prostitute or john to make the offer for sexual services explicitly and clearly so that it can be used in a trial, if necessary.  The undercover officer may otherwise attempt to get the prostitute or john to make the offer in a text message or email.  Sometimes, when prostitutes travel across state lines or are part of large scale organizations, the cases can even be prosecuted by federal law enforcement officers, as well.

If you or a loved one have been arrested or are being investigated for any of the above-described crimes, you should consider contacting the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Galluzzo & Johnson LLP.

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