While Nevada is home to several brothels that operate legally in the rural counties, many out-of-town visitors are disappointed to learn that prostitution is actually illegal in Las Vegas and throughout Clark County, Nevada. If you have been arrested for prostitution or soliciting prostitution in Las Vegas, read below to learn about the law and how a criminal defense attorney can help you.
Nevada is the only state in the United States that has legal prostitution. But prostitution is only legal in certain counties, and even then, prostitution is only legal in licensed houses of prostitution (i.e., brothels, or "houses of ill fame or repute"). Under NRS 244.345, if a county in Nevada has a population of less than 700,000, that county may allow licensed brothels to operate within its borders. This means that prostitution is completely illegal in Clark County, Washoe County, Douglas County, and Lincoln County. To see a map of the counties in which prostitution is legal and illegal in Nevada, click here. Because Las Vegas is located in Clark County, prostitution is a crime in Las Vegas.
Prostitution-related offenses are investigated by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department's Vice section. Metro Vice mainly focuses on arresting prostitutes and their clients. Both prostitutes and their clients, or "Johns," are prosecuted under NRS 201.354, which prohibits engaging in prostitution and solicitation for prostitution. In particular, NRS 201.354(1) states that is illegal "for any person to engage in prostitution or solicitation therefor, except in a licensed house of prostitution." As stated above, there are no licensed houses of prostitution in Las Vegas, so prostitution is completely prohibited. But what is the difference between prostitution and solicitation for prostitution?
Prostitution means engaging in any sexual acts for money or other compensation. In criminal law, "solicitation" is the act of encouraging someone else to commit a crime, with the specific intent that the particular crime be committed. Solicitation doesn't only apply to prostitution. Someone can solicit another person to commit any crime (e.g., asking a person to kill someone would be solicitation to commit murder). But because solicitation to commit prostitution is so common, "solicitation" is often considered synonymous to "solicitation to commit prostitution."
Solicitation for prostitution includes situations in which a "John" offers a prostitute (or a Metro Vice Cop posing as one) money to engage in a sex act. Soliciting prostitution also includes when a prostitute offers sex for money to a potential client (who, again, may be a Metro Vice Cop). But the reality is, all of these offenses are punished under the same statute, NRS 201.354, as outlined above.
A person who is convicted under NRS 201.354 is guilty of a misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum of 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. This potential punishment applies equally to people who actually engage in acts of prostitution, and people who solicit others (including undercover cops) to commit prostitution. However, under NRS 201.354(3), a person who solicits a person who is under 18 years old to commit prostitution is guilty of a category E felony, punishable by 1 year to 4 years imprisonment, suspended, with mandatory probation.
Although it is not strictly a "punishment," under NRS 201.356, any person arrested for prostitution or solicitation must submit to an HIV/AIDS test. If the person is subsequently convicted of the offense by pleading guilty or being found guilty after a trial, he or she must pay $100 for the cost of the test.
Additionally, the court can order additional punishments. These might include community service for alleged "Johns," although fines are more common. Individuals convicted of prostitution will typically be ordered to complete an AIDS Awareness Class. Additionally, those convicted of prostitution and solicitation will almost always be ordered to "stay out of trouble," meaning pick up no new arrests, either while the case is pending or for a fixed period of time. Picking up a new arrest in violation of an order to "stay out of trouble" can result in the imposition of a jail sentence that had been previously "suspended."
If you have been charged with prostitution or solicitation, you should hire a criminal defense attorney. Prostitution and soliciting are misdemeanors, but can still lead to jail time, fines, and lasting effects on your record if they are not handled properly.
Because prostitution and solicitation charges are misdemeanors (with the exception of soliciting a minor, explained above), you are not entitled to a jury trial. Instead, you are only entitled to a trial by judge, also known as a "bench trial." Because the prosecutor has the burden of proving the charges against you beyond a reasonable doubt, it may make sense to take your prostitution or solicitation case to trial. If you are charged as a "John" in a Metro sting operation, it may be that your flirting with an undercover cop was misinterpreted as a solicitation to commit prostitution. If you are charged as an alleged prostitute, a Metro Vice Cop may have similarly misunderstood your words or conduct. In the chaos of a Las Vegas casino, words and body language may be misinterpreted easily. The particular defenses available to you will vary according to the unique facts of your case.
However, in most instances, prostitution cases do not go to trial, but are instead negotiated. Alleged "Johns" are usually most concerned about keeping the charges off their permanent records. In many instances, this can be achieved if you have no record and you are willing to pay a fine and complete other court-ordered requirements. Additionally, if you were charged as a "John" while on a trip to Las Vegas, very frequently a criminal defense lawyer can take care of your case without you having to return to appear in a Las Vegas court.
Alleged prostitutes are usually concerned about avoiding jail time. Fortunately, these types of cases usually can be negotiated to avoid jail time. In many instances, this involves avoiding longer fixed "stay out of trouble" terms.
I have helped many people charged with prostitution and solicitation in Las Vegas. Call me now for a free consultation and we can discuss your case.
By Michael Pandullo