Civil Liberties

Monica Jones Takes 'Manifesting Prostitution' Challenge to Arizona Supreme Court


Laverne Cox/Instagram

Monica Jones is asking the Supreme Court of Arizona to reverse her April conviction for "manifesting prostitution" and deem the ordinance she was charged under unconstitutional. Pursuant to Phoenix city code, accepting a ride from a stranger, waving at passersby, or asking someone whether they're a cop could constitute "manifesting an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution," a misdemeanor crime. 

Jones was arrested in May 2013, after accepting a ride from an undercover police officer working on Phoenix's "prostitution diversion" detail. Jones, a student at the University of Arizona, is active in LGBT and sex worker rights advocacy. At a rally the night before her arrest, she had been warning women about the Phoenix Police Department's sting operation that weekend. 

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona Jones challenged the charges, arguing that Phoneix's manifesting prostitution statute is "unconstitutionally vague and overbroad" and infringed on freedom of speech. The Phoenix Municipal Court disagreed, sentencing Jones to 30 days jail time and a $500 fine. Today, Jones filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court. 

From The Arizona Republic

Jones' attorney, Jean-Jacques "J" Cabou of Perkins Coie LLP, said the ordinance undermined various portions of the First Amendment. "This law abridges a lot of pure speech — speech like speaking, speech like asking questions, speech like what you wear," Cabou said. "The law protects all of those things, and, in this case, it protected none of them."

In the April trial, the municipal judge's decision hinged on the accounts of two witnesses: Jones and the undercover Phoenix Police officer. Their stories diverged on several factors, including who initiated the ride and whether Jones instigated sexual contact.

Jones' attorneys say the ordinance also relies too much on the assumptions of the individual officer. In Jones case, attorneys noted, the undercover officer described her outfit as a "black, tight-fitting dress" and repeatedly referred to Jones as a man in his written report.

Jones is transgender. She was heading to meet friends at a bar and dressed in a manner this police officer deemed provocative. And that's what's insidious about this law: It allows for cops' subjective judgments about intent to stand in for any actual criminal activity. To manifest prostitution, you only need look to a cop like a prostitute.

"The officer who arrested me profiled me as a sex worker because I am transgender, I am a woman of color and I live in an area that is perceived to be low income," Jones said in a statement. At an ACLU gathering Monday night, she was joined by trans actress Laverne Cox. The Orange Is The New Black star said Jones' challenging the law was "a huge inspiration" to her and trans people across the county.