'Manifesting' Prostitution Law Challenged

PHOENIX (CN) - A black transgendered woman challenged her conviction of "manifesting" prostitution under a Phoenix ordinance, claiming the law violates her right to free speech.
     Monica Jones, a student at Arizona State University and an "internationally recognized advocate for the rights of transgendered people," was arrested in May 2013 after accepting a ride to a bar from an undercover Phoenix police officer.
     According to her appeal, filed Tuesday, the Phoenix Municipal Code of which she was convicted - manifesting an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution - violates her First Amendment rights because it "sweeps up vast amounts of protected speech."
     The code criminalizes "constitutionally protected activities, such as beckoning or attempting to stop or engage a passerby in conversation, or inquiring whether a person is a police officer or, as here, by criminalizing clothing choices," the appeal states.
     Jones claims that even if Phoenix has an interest in prohibiting prostitution, "a measure that criminalizes a broad range of legal speech cannot be the 'least restrictive' means to furthering such an interest."
     During Jones' trial, the arresting officer testified that Jones' neighborhood was known for prostitution, and that she was wearing a "black, tight-fitting dress," which indicated to him that she was about to engage in prostitution.
     The officer repeatedly referred to Jones as a man.
     Jones is publicly supported in her appeal by Laverne Cox, a black transgender woman, advocate for LGBT rights, and actress in Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black."
     "Our society is unfortunately filled with negative assumptions about trans women," Cox said in a statement. "This law allows all of those assumptions to be acted upon, emboldening officers to arrest people just because of how they look or act. Walking while trans should not be a crime, but this law can certainly make it one."
     The code violates the due process rights of defendants because it is vague, Jones claims.
     "While it prohibits 'manifest[ing] an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution,' it does not define 'manifesting,' other than by providing a laundry list of examples," the appeal states. "Defendants are left guessing as to the behavior that would subject them to arrest under the code."
     Jones claims there was lack of evidence to support the conviction, other than the police officer's testimony that she "displayed behavior indicating prostitution activity."
     Jones says she was only going to a neighborhood bar, where she anticipated getting drinks with the officer.
     Jones claims the trial court improperly allowed the state to introduce evidence of her prior conviction for prostitution, and denied her a jury trial to which she was entitled.
     The state presented "no facts other than the bare fact of conviction and that the prior conviction 'related to an oral sex allegation.'" It also failed to explain how the prior conviction could be used to show any intent by Jones, according to the appeal.
     "Jones was convicted of a misdemeanor she didn't commit, pursuant to an unconstitutional statute, in a trial where she was denied the jury to which she was constitutionally entitled, and where the judge expressly found her guilty based on his impermissible consideration of her potential punishment and of her prior misdemeanor criminal history," said Jean-Jacques Cabou, Jones' attorney and a partner in Perkins Coie's Phoenix office. "This law is unconstitutional, her trial was unfair, and her conviction should be reversed."