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Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315
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The Constitutionality of West Palm Beach Anti-Prostitution Ordinances

Last year, the Florida Court of Appeals in City of West Palm Beach v. Chatman ruled that the City’s anti-prostitution ordinance, which prohibited “loitering with the intent to commit prostitution,” was unconstitutional. Mr. Chatman, the defendant in the case, was observed by a police officer while—in the officer’s own words—“standing in an area known for prostitution activity dressed as a woman.” On the basis of the West Palm Beach ordinance, the officer arrested Mr. Chatman. Mr. Chatman, despite the embarrassing and sensitive nature of the charges against him, however, was not deterred, and he and his attorney fought to see the law overturned. Their victory exemplifies exactly the sort of steadfast insistence on traditional constitutional principles that characterizes the practice of criminal defense attorneys at its best. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of facing prostitution charges, you should contact a defense attorney immediately to help protect your rights.

When the state sought to prosecute Mr. Chatman under the West Palm Beach “loitering with the intent to commit prostitution” law, his attorney brought a motion to dismiss, arguing that the statute was an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment freedoms that was vague and overbroad. The exact wording of the law criminalized any behavior near a public roadway that evidenced a “specific intent” to commit an act of prostitution. The trial court agreed that the law was problematic, but deemed the question to be one of substantial public importance, thereby permitting the City to appeal the dismissal of the charges in the Florida Court of Appeals.

The Florida Court of Appeals Weighs In

The Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides, but found the defenses of the statute unconvincing. The Court’s opinion observed that, in a famous 1993 case called Wyche v. State, the Florida Supreme Court had already determined that a similar law passed by the City of Tampa was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The only difference between the Tampa and West Palm Beach laws was that the latter required a “specific intent,” while the former did not. This difference, the Florida Court of Appeals said, made no difference.

Quoting the famous opinion from Wyche, the Court wrote that “[t]he ordinance limits the rights of those who have been previously convicted of prostitution to engage in noncriminal routine activities… All Florida citizens enjoy the inherent right to window shop, saunter down a sidewalk, and wave to friends and passersby with no fear of arrest.” These same rights were at issue here, the Court of Appeals found, and therefore the West Palm Beach law, however well-intentioned it might have been, could not be allowed to stand. The charges against Mr. Chatman were dismissed, and the law was overturned.

Having Experienced Counsel Makes All the Difference

Prostitution cases are—it almost goes without saying—some of the most difficult to talk about openly and honestly. But as the Chatman case illustrates, the bringing of charges is not the end of the discussion. If you’re facing prostitution charges, you still have constitutional rights, and Fort Lauderdale attorney Kevin J. Kulik is willing to fight for them.

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