California repeals provision criminalizing vagrancy related to possible prostitution

A provision of state law previously allowed police to arrest those who “delay or linger without lawful purpose” if it appears they were trying to engage in sex work. The police can no longer use this charge, and those who have been convicted can ask the court for a new conviction or dismissal, depending on the language of the law.
In a letter to the state Senate, Newsom made it clear that this law does not legalize prostitution and that his administration will monitor the effects of the law.

“While I agree with the author’s intent and sign this legislation, we must be careful about its implementation,” Newsom wrote in the letter. “My administration will monitor crime and prosecution trends for potential unintended consequences and will act to mitigate those impacts.”

Proponents of the bill say the previous law has long discriminated against transgender people and people of color because law enforcement is allowed to use its own discretion in what constitutes vagrancy.

The new version of the law does not decriminalize soliciting or prostitution. Instead, it eliminates the offense of vagrancy “which leads to the detrimental treatment of people for merely ‘appearing’ to be a sex worker,” reads a statement from the bill’s sponsor, Senator Scott. Vienna.

“This crime is so subjective and inherently profiling that it allows a police officer to arrest someone based solely on how they are dressed, whether they are wearing high heels and certain types of makeup, how they headdress and the like,” Wiener said in the statement. “This criminal provision is inherently discriminatory and does not target people for any action, but simply based on their appearance.”

The law is expected to come into force on January 1, 2023.

Legislation receives mixed reactions from advocates

Meanwhile, some who work to prevent human trafficking say the law will inevitably increase the demand for people in prostitution.

In a June press release encouraging Newsom to veto the bill, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) said the legislation would “cause even more harm to marginalized communities”.

“If enacted, SB 357 would significantly limit law enforcement’s ability to identify victims of human trafficking, even if the victims are minors,” said Stephany Powell, director of law enforcement training. law enforcement and survivor services at NCOSE. “Many officers rely on vagrancy laws to initiate trafficking investigations that have led to serious convictions for traffickers and pimps.”

CNN has reached out to NCOSE for comment on the legislation being enacted.

The Los Angeles-based Coalition for the Abolition of Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), another anti-trafficking group, claimed that repealing the previous provision would ensure that police follow due process.

Eliminating this section of the law deters police from relying on “bias rather than evidence to criminalize otherwise lawful activities like walking, dressing or standing in public, and leads to harassment of communities LGTBQ+, black and brown to just look like a ‘sex worker’ to law enforcement,” CAST told CNN in a statement.

“The arrest of sex workers or people perceived to be sex workers creates environments in which people, including survivors, will be arrested and creates barriers to accessing safe housing, legal employment and to an overall quality of life,” the organization said, noting that it ultimately makes it difficult to get resources to the people who need them.

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