The D.C. Court of Appeals has rejected a contention that an undercover police officer acted improperly by making the initial overture to a suspected prostitute.
The decision is seen by prosecutors and law enforcement officials as a new weapon in their fight against prostitution. But police officials said that officers would continue to try to make cases in the normal fashion, waiting for the suspect to approach the officer and state a price for a specific sex act.
"I think (the ruling) does break new ground," said Stephen R. Spivack, the assistant U.S. attorney who handled the case. "It is interpreting a statute that was always there. It's clear now that you don't have to be the person who initiates the conversation to be convicted."
The 6-to-3 ruling upheld the conviction in D.C. Superior Court of Diane Kinkins, whose attorney argued that Dinkins did not solicit for prostitution because her conduct was responsive to the arresting officer rather than initiatory.
According to the May 10 majority opinion written by Associate judge Frank Q. Nebeker, Dinkins dressed in a miniskirt and knee-length boots, was standing on the sidewalk when an undercover officer who had been cruising the area slowed down, said "Hi," and waved to the woman. Kinkins then approached the car and put her head through the window, upon which the officer initiated a conversation.
The officer also was the first one to mention money, although Dinkins, when asked, did quote a specific price for a sex act. Nebeker's opinion noted that a 1975 case had already held that "an individual could be found guilty in a case in which . . . the officer rather than the person charged . . . asks how much it would cost."
The judges noted that the word "solicit" does not appear in the applicable statute and is irrelevant to the case. Instead, Nebeker's opinion takes a dictionary definition of the word "address," calling it "neutral in the sense of being active or passive." The judges conclude that enticement to prostitution does not require an active effort but can be demonstrated by responding to an undercover officer.
"We hold that (Dinkins') attire, her prolonged presense on the street corner, her approach to a complete stranger, her extremely suggestive verbal responses to the officer, her prompt discussion of financial terms, and her ready arrangement for a room are legally sufficient . . . to conclude guilt," the court ruled.
"It (the ruling) is not going to drastically affect our operations," said Lt. Edwin Casey, head of the prostitution enforcement unit in the third district, where most D.C. prostitution arrests are made. "Basically, we're going to be doing the same things we have been doing. But this does give us a little more leeway in hard-lines cases."
Casey said the new ruling would make it easier for police to deal with veteran, street-wise prostitutes who are familiar with the law and shy from starting a conversation or quoting a specific price.