Prostitution Stings and Entrapment in Arizona

Have you been charged with soliciting a prostitute in Arizona? If so, you might be feeling like the walls are closing around you. Is there anything you can do to defend against the charge? Who can help you? How?

Our team of highly qualified defense attorneys at AZ Defenders will help you fight prostitution charges, misdemeanor and felony, after being caught up in Arizona solicitation of prostitution stings. Call us at (480) 456-6400 to set up a free initial consultation with a qualified attorney.

Although solicitation of prostitution can be a very serious crime that could lead to jail time, that does not mean you can’t build a strong defense, or that incarceration is inevitable.

Find out more below about how our experienced sex crimes defense attorneys can help you if you are facing prosecution for solicitation charges in Maricopa County or anywhere else in Arizona.

Understanding Arizona Prostitution Laws: What is Solicitation of Prostitution?

Simply put, solicitation of prostitution happens if you offer another person money or something else of value in exchange for that person to engage in sexual conduct with you.

The act of prostitution itself involves three elements: (1) an offer of money or some other item of value; (2) the offer is made in exchange for the performance of a sex act; and (3) committing a substantial act toward the fulfillment of the exchange.

Under Arizona prostitution law, a “sexual act” includes most any kind of sexual conduct you can imagine: vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex, fondling or manipulating of the genitals, anus, or a female breast. Even sadomasochistic abuse is included in the list of acts constituting prostitution when other elements are met. Defenses to prostitution that consist of, “But this particular activity is not included in the definition of prostitution” are accordingly unlikely to be successful.

Is Prostitution Legal in Arizona?

Arizona state prostitution laws make it illegal to hire a prostitute, although sex workers do have an affirmative defense under the law if they are a sex trafficking victim. Arizona state prostitution laws also provide the penalties for prostitution convictions:

  • No less than 15 days in jail for a first prostitution conviction.
  • No less than 30 days in jail for a second prostitution conviction.
  • No less than 60 days in jail for a third conviction. The offender must also complete a court-ordered education or treatment program.
  • For another conviction after the third conviction, incarceration for no less than 180 days.

The first three convictions are class 1 misdemeanors. Starting with the fourth conviction, the penalties go to the Class 5 felony level, meaning that the minimum 180-day sentence can be served in a state correctional facility instead of a county or municipal jail.

Although Arizona law makes the act of prostitution itself illegal, it does not itself make solicitation of prostitution illegal. Instead, state law leaves it to Arizona counties and municipalities to draft and enforce their own laws prohibiting solicitation.

How Anti-Prostitution and Anti-Solicitation Laws in Phoenix Work

In Phoenix, you can get into trouble with anti-prostitution and anti-solicitation law in two direct ways and two indirect ways. Direct ways include knowingly engaging in an act of prostitution, or if you make or accept an offer to do so with the prospective prostitute or client.

One indirect way to violate the law is to be an “aider and abettor” in soliciting an act of prostitution (a pimp, in other words), or to negotiate with such a person to solicit an act of prostitution that happens elsewhere with someone else.

Another indirect violation of the Phoenix anti-solicitation law is to publicly “manifest an intent” to solicit, enable, or engage in sexual conduct constituting prostitution. This means engaging in circumstantial behaviors that suggest to potential prostitutes, customers, and law enforcement the desire to hire a prostitute or to provide the services of one.

For example, someone repeatedly trying to stop or flag down pedestrians or drivers to engage in conversation with them, either a prostitute or a middle-person, manifests intent. Another manifestation of intent occurs when someone does things that a prostitute or customer might do to see if the prospective partner is an undercover police officer. This includes asking whether that person is a police officer, or searching for hidden cameras, recording devices, or a police badge, or asking the other person to first do something that an undercover police officer would not do.

Penalties for Soliciting Prostitution in General

Arizona leaves it up to each city or town to pass its own anti-solicitation law. Most of these laws, including the anti-solicitation law for Phoenix, treat solicitation as a Class one misdemeanor offense. Municipalities that follow this approach can impose a jail sentence of up to six months, the maximum allowable for a Class one misdemeanor conviction.

Similarly, the maximum fine for a Class 1 misdemeanor violation is $2,500, so local laws will often have the same maximum fine amount. And lastly, the judge has the discretion to impose probation for up to three years upon a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction.

You might see some variation in city anti-solicitation laws, like differences in local minimum sentencing requirements.

City of Phoenix Penalties for Solicitation

The penalties for soliciting or engaging in prostitution in Phoenix depend partly on the role the convicted person plays in the act. Prostitutes and their customers are subject to one set of punishments, and those who engage in prostitution on the human trafficking side are subject to another, harsher set.

In Phoenix, jail terms for prostitutes and customers are like those that Arizona’s state law imposes: 15 days for the first offense, 30 for the second, 60 for the third offense, and 180 for the fourth offense and any additional convictions. Note that any other violation of Arizona prostitution law or another Arizona municipality’s prostitution and solicitation laws is counted as a violation of the Phoenix law.

Jail Time

Anyone convicted for solicitation in Phoenix must complete all the minimum incarceration period before being eligible for a suspension or commutation of the rest of the sentence, or to be eligible for work furlough, probation, or release. If, however, the court decides that serving the sentence for consecutive days through its entirety would endanger the health of the convicted person, then the court can break the sentence up into smaller segments as long as the number of days specific in the minimum sentence are not shortened.

Education or Treatment Program Requirement

As with state law, a third offense and conviction carries an education or treatment program obligation at one’s personal expense (all court-imposed education and treatment programs for prostitution or solicitation must be paid for by the person ordered to take them).


Unlike Arizona state law, however, the Phoenix anti-prostitution and anti-solicitation law also allows the court in its discretion to impose a fine up to the maximum amount for a Class 1 misdemeanor (this is $2,500 in 2023).

For each conviction, after the first offense, in addition to the Class 1 misdemeanor fine the court can impose an additional fee, payable to a human trafficking fund. The amount of this fee starts at $2,000 for a second conviction, then increases to $2,250 for a third and $2,500 for the fourth and every subsequent violation and conviction.

Vehicle Impoundment

If a person uses a car to transport a prostitute to a location to engage in prostitution, then the police can tow and impound the car for 30 days at the vehicle owner’s expense.

Aggravating Circumstances: Soliciting a Minor

One way to make a charge for solicitation much worse in any town or city in Arizona is to solicit a minor.

Arizona Penalties for Child Sex Trafficking

Arizona law makes engaging in prostitution with a minor a sex trafficking crime. Because those under the age of 18 are deemed unable to consent to any sexual act, let alone an illegal one, the Government views those participating in prostitution to be victims. Furthermore, it emphasizes the arrest and prosecution of those who attempt to engage their “services”.

If the child is under the age of 15, then the act of prostitution alone is grounds for conviction for child sex trafficking regardless of whether the other person is aware of the child’s true age. If the child is 15 to 17 years old, then conviction is possible if the person soliciting the minor knows or should know that he or she is a minor.

It is no defense to a charge of child sex trafficking to claim that a police officer or any other person who participates in the sting is pretending to be a minor.

Being found guilty of child sex trafficking in Arizona leads to a Class 2 felony conviction, which carries a prison sentence ranging from 7 to 21 years. In addition, a conviction can result in being placed on the state’s sex offender registry.

Phoenix Penalties for Soliciting a Minor

Phoenix imposes harsher penalties for attempting to have sex with an underage person. Under the city code, solicitation of a minor carries a minimum jail sentence of 180 days in addition to the discretionary Class 1 misdemeanor fine. For a first offense, successful completion of an education or treatment program can lead to a suspension of 90 days of the 180-day sentence (again, at the discretion of the court).

Additional Consequences for an Arizona Solicitation Conviction

Aside from jail time, fees, and mandatory education and treatment, a person convicted of solicitation can also face additional informal yet potentially serious consequences. For example, in some places law enforcement will publish in the local newspaper photographs of people arrested for solicitation.

In addition, although solicitation is not itself a sex crime, a solicitation conviction still becomes a part of a person’s criminal record. And of course, the damage to one’s relationship with a spouse or partner can suffer or even be extinguished when that person learns of what has happened.

If you are convicted of a felony-level prostitution charge, such as for engaging in sex trafficking of a child, then you will face at least the temporary loss of some of your legal rights in Arizona. These include the right to vote, the right to possess a firearm, the right to obtain some kinds of professional licenses, and the right to serve on a jury.

If you are a legal immigrant into the United States and are living in Arizona, a conviction for prostitution can jeopardize your immigrant status and possibly subject you to deportation.

How Do Police Stings Work under Arizona Prostitution Laws?

Partly to enforce their own anti-solicitation laws and partly to discourage people who might be thinking about violating them, cities and towns in Arizona occasionally conduct undercover operations to catch people committing the act of solicitation. You can see many examples of police solicitation “sting” arrests on video recordings online.

Sting operations can take many forms. Some can involve solicitation at otherwise legitimate businesses, like a massage parlor. Others use social media communication platforms to place advertisements or other messages to tempt would-be Johns to engage them. These are often known as “modeling ads.” Other solicitation traps can involve undercover officers posing as street prostitutes. And some even pretend to be minors, especially online.

One point of having so many possible sting variations is to keep people guessing: no plausible solicitation path is safe from a possible sting operation. The other is to catch as many people as possible who congregate around well-known solicitation locations and media where prostitutes and Johns communicate.

An example of what this means in practice is that your chance of encountering a police sting online is greater if you spend time answering personal ads that suggest the possibility of an eventual sexual encounter. Another is that if you drive around slowly on streets known for prostitution activity, the chance of an undercover officer hailing and approaching your car increases.

How often police conduct sting operations varies by city and, in some cases, by special circumstances. In Phoenix, for example, events that draw in large numbers of out-of-town visitors, like a professional baseball, basketball or football playoff game, often coincide with scaled-up police sting operations.

Example Sting Operation: The Modeling Ad

Tracing a sting operation from its beginning to the video-recorded arrest of the unsuspecting John reveals a general pattern. Let’s consider an online modeling ad sting:

  • The police will find a communication site where they can place an ad selling sexual services. This usually involves using language to suggest a sexual encounter possibility, or direct someone to a website offering sex services. Then they will wait for people to reply to the ad.
  • Once a person answers the ad, the police will then negotiate with the prospective John by discussing possible sex services, prices, and arranging a place to meet. This will typically be a location where a team of arresting officers can gather nearby unseen, like a motel with adjacent rooms. Video cameras will be concealed in the room where the solicitation will take place.
  • Once the John arrives at the pre-arranged location, the police undercover officer posing as the prostitute will wait until the John offers something of value, like cash, in exchange for a sex act. At this point, the nearby arrest team—which will often be watching the scene unfold by real-time video—will burst into the room and make the arrest.

As you may expect, the police can and do use a number of deceptive tactics to preserve their undercover identities. Noteworthy among them is denying that they are police officers if asked whether they are. Another deception can be adult police officers masquerading as children.

Example Sting Operation: Soliciting Child Prostitution

Sting operations involving undercover police posing as minors often involve surprising the potential John as to the age of who he is negotiating with. For example, a person who answers an ad on a site meant for adults only might suddenly discover that his communication partner is claiming to be 16 years old. If he continues, the police can then claim that he knew he was soliciting a minor.

Another tactic police use to suggest that a John is aware he is soliciting a child for prostitution happens when the John is on his way to the meeting location—only to receive a last-minute phone call or text from the supposed underage prostitute to buy alcohol or cigarettes. If he does, the police (who will frequently be following the John’s car) can use this as evidence of that awareness.

What Defenses are Available to Solicitation Charges?

If you have been charged with solicitation in Arizona, it can seem like you have no hope. The police have eyewitnesses and video, and these can seem to be damning at first glance. But depending on circumstances, you may have defenses that you can use to defeat the charges or to lessen the consequences of a conviction.

Common Defenses to a Solicitation Charge

Most of the defenses against a solicitation of prostitution charge are technical or procedural in nature. The goal of your defense lawyer will be to carefully examine how the police conducted the sting operation to see if they made any mistakes that would be prejudicial to your rights as a defendant. Here are some defenses that might be available:

  • Lack of intent. If you can show that you did not intend to solicit a prostitute, this defeats one of the elements that the prosecution must prove to convict you. Some examples include not having anything of value to offer in exchange for a sexual act or sexual favors, or insincerity in making an alleged offer, or not having a condom with you at the time of your arrest.
  • Violation of your legal rights. If at the time of your arrest or thereafter the police fail to observe your constitutional rights, this can lead to the case against you being dismissed by the court. A failure to inform you of your Miranda right to have an attorney present during police questioning is one example of a due process violation.
  • Misidentification or false accusation. Although not related to police sting operations, sometimes you can be mistakenly or falsely accused by another person of soliciting a prostitute.
  • Police forensic errors or other mistakes. Police officers and law enforcement agencies are not perfect. Sometimes they can make mistakes in preserving evidence in your case that can result in evidence becoming inadmissible against you. They can make errors in identifying you, or make incorrect or false statements in their arrest reports that can cast doubt on the validity of the charge against you.

The Entrapment Defense

Chances are good that you have heard of the entrapment defense in connection with charges of prostitution or corrupt behaviors. The essence of this defense is that although police can use some deceptive tactics when working a solicitation sting, like denying that they are police officers, sometimes they can become overly aggressive in their methods. If the police engage in conduct that is coercive or too persistent in attempts to persuade you to follow through on a solicitation or an act of prostitution that you normally would not do absent the coercive police behavior, this can become entrapment.

Entrapment is an affirmative defense, which means that your defense attorney must raise entrapment in legal pleadings before the court before you can use it. It is up to your defense lawyer to show the following requirements to prove entrapment under Arizona law:

  1. A police officer must have initiated the idea of committing the solicitation or act of prostitution.
  2. The police officer then uses either coercive or unreasonably persistent attempts to get you to engage in prostitution.
  3. You were not otherwise inclined to have committed the illegal act.

If you can satisfy all three elements above, then the burden of proving that you voluntarily engaged in solicitation shifts back to the prosecution. A successful entrapment defense can result in your acquittal of a solicitation charge.

What is important to remember about the entrapment defense is that to use it you cannot freely engage in acts that can be taken as showing intent to engage with a prostitute for sexual services, like making the initial approach to the undercover officer, or showing that person that you have something of value to offer in exchange. If you do, then the coercive requirement fails and you cannot use the entrapment defense.

What to do if You Are Caught in a Solicitation Sting

The First Rule: Keep Silent Until Help Arrives

The moment when the police seem to come at you from nowhere, shouting at you and handcuffing you, it can be hard to stay focused on what you must do next. The one thing you must keep clear in your mind until your attorney arrives is this: Don’t beat yourself by talking.

  • Do not give in to panic, and start trying to explain yourself to the police. Do not volunteer any information.
  • Do not give in to the temptation to lie to the police.
    Except to identify yourself, do not answer questions from the police.

If you find yourself caught up in a police sting operation for any reason, exercise your Miranda right to remain silent. This is true even if you have not yet been placed under arrest. 

Keep exercising your right to remain silent, except to say that you want to have your attorney present with you. Then, wait for your attorney to arrive.

During a prostitution sting apprehension and arrest, much bad and no good can come to you if you talk to the police. They are not looking out for your interest. They are not trying to help you when they encourage you to “Tell your side of the story.” They are looking for ways to get you to say something to incriminate yourself.

Let us talk to the police for you. We know how undercover police officers work, and the various ways they use to get you to help them instead of yourself. We will put a stop to their attempts to get you to unknowingly convict yourself.

Give us a call at AZ Defenders, (480) 456-6400 to speak with one of our sex crimes defense specialists. Our attorneys have extensive experience in defending sex crime cases in Arizona, including police stings. Our law firm has successfully defended many people, just like you, who find themselves caught up in a solicitation arrest. We can help you, too. Call us first.

We Can Help You Defend Against a Solicitation Prosecution

Defending a solicitation of prosecution case in Arizona begins with a careful investigation of the facts and evidence that the police have. A defense attorney from our team of dedicated sex crimes lawyers gauges the strength of the police evidence, reviewing police reports and any video or audio recordings, and investigating to see whether the police purposefully or inadvertently violated any of your legal rights under federal or Arizona law.

Based on our evidence review, we will next help you to understand your options when defending against the solicitation charge. These include considerations like whether an entrapment defense is possible, whether the police violated any of your procedural due process rights or made any false or misleading statements in their reports, the possibility if it exists to challenge the legality of the police evidence, and another valuable consideration is whether to choose a jury trial or a bench trial before a judge alone.

Once we have thoroughly investigated the facts and evidence and weighed the strengths and vulnerabilities of the prosecution’s case (including whether or not this is your first violation), we will then prepare your best possible legal defense strategy. In some cases, if acquittal is not possible, we can help you negotiate alternatives to judicially imposed sentences or to reduce maximum sentences and possibly avoid discretionary penalties.

Call AZ Defenders today, (480) 456-6400, from anywhere in Arizona to set up a free initial consultation with one of our sex crimes defense lawyers. Each Phoenix criminal defense attorney on our team represent clients accused of solicitation and prostitution not only in Maricopa County, but throughout the state.

The case against you for solicitation, especially if you are caught up in a sting operation, may not be as open-and-shut as the police want you to think it is. Don’t give in to a sense of despair. Call us, or if you prefer, reach out to us online to set up a consultation or to ask a question, and one of our defense specialists will respond to you.

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