Court data reveal the overwhelming majority of circumstances are dismissed with a pretrial diversion program.
HOUSTON — One year after a groundbreaking legislation made shopping for intercourse a felony in Texas, a KHOU 11 Investigates evaluation of court docket data confirmed that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office not often bought felony convictions in these circumstances.
The downside of soliciting prostitution has festered for years each on-line and on the streets, like on the so-called “track” in southwest Houston. On any given night time alongside Bissonnet Street, a parade of Johns drive by seeking to purchase intercourse in street-brokered offers.
This demand facet of the intercourse commerce financial system sustains and perpetuates human trafficking, based on advocates, and prompted Texas lawmakers to just about unanimously go the first-of-its-kind invoice.
“To make sure that Texas is way ahead of every state,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson instructed the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence final March.
The Houston Democrat was the first sponsor of HB 1540, which made solicitation of prostitution a state jail felony on the primary offense and made it punishable by up two years behind bars upon conviction.
Just a few months after the invoice took impact, in September 2021, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg praised the harder penalty for purchasing intercourse at a Crime Stoppers of Houston occasion.
“The most important change I think was the legislature’s determination that buying sex was going to be a felony, and we are prosecuting individuals for just that,” Ogg mentioned final December.
The nonprofit advocacy group Children at Risk testified in Austin in assist of the invoice. Staff lawyer Caroline Roberts mentioned signing a invoice into legislation is barely half of the equation.
“It has to be implemented correctly,” Roberts mentioned. “So that’s always a question that we have: ‘How is this law being implemented?’”
In the year after the legislation took impact, an evaluation of court docket data confirmed that 518 felony solicitation of prostitution circumstances had been filed. Of the 232 circumstances that have been disposed of, solely 11 (5%) resulted in felony convictions.
Meanwhile, 178 circumstances (77%) of people who had been disposed of had been dismissed beneath what’s referred to as pretrial diversion. In these offers supplied by prosecutors, defendants usually had been required to take a decision-making class or “John’s class, ”and both pay a fantastic or make a donation to the Houston Area Women’s Center. In return, these Johns had been later given a possibility to get the felony cost expunged — wiped off their file.
“My question there is: ‘What does that diversion mean?’” Roberts mentioned. “Is it a very robust, well-vetted, evidence-based program that is done weeks and weeks and weeks?”
Roberts mentioned not all diversion packages are created equally and he or she cautioned in opposition to some which are supplied on-line.
“It’s not accountability to just check a box, watch a video and be done with it, be done with a felony,” she mentioned.
Nathan Beedle, a trial bureau chief with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, mentioned Ogg has the authorized means to divert any case that she sees match beneath the Texas felony code. When requested if there was a grasp listing of lessons that had been vetted by his office to make sure their high quality effectiveness, Beedle mentioned he was not conscious of any that exist.
“That’s one thing that we will positively take a look at, for certain,” he mentioned.
Beedle insisted that the low felony conviction rate just isn’t them being tender on crime or shopping for intercourse “lacks priority” in comparison with homicide circumstances, sexual assaults, aggravated robberies and different violent crimes.
“We have to prioritize exactly what we’re going to be devoting most of our resources to,” he mentioned.
Beedle added that pretrial diversion is often supplied to first offenders solely, and the recidivism rate in his expertise is among the many lowest of any crimes.
“In most cases where people get pretrial diversion I think it’s absolutely the right way to go if they complete the necessary programs with a low likelihood of them coming back,” Beedle mentioned.
KHOU 11 Investigates requested a remark from Thompson mentioned she was unavailable as a consequence of her schedule. Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican who co-sponsored the sex-buying invoice, mentioned it’s a problem that she is going to monitor fastidiously within the subsequent legislative session.
“While it’s good news that the law is being used and individuals are being arrested and charged, I am concerned about whether the appropriate punishment is being implemented,” Huffman mentioned.
In Montgomery County, prosecutors have been imposing the legislation a lot otherwise. Of the 39 disposed of circumstances because the legislation went into impact, 33 resulted in felony convictions, based on Assistant District Attorney Kelly Blackburn.