Last edited: February 14, 2005

Gay Cruising Prosecuted as Felony in Roanoke, Va.

Data Lounge, November 24, 1998

ROANOKE, VA -- The Roanoke Times reports the indictment of 18 men on felony charges in Virginia for allegedly seeking oral sex with other men has provoked a strong response from gay and lesbian civil rights groups.

Convicted offenders face up to 5 years in prison.

The Roanoke Police Department recently cracked down on gay cruising in two area parks and has begun prosecuting gay men who solicited sex from undercover police officers. Critics charge the police department with "selective enforcement" and "entrapment" and question the fairness of a policy that levels felony charges against men seeking consensual sexual partners.

Until very recently, offenders charged with gay sexual solicitation or activity were charged with misdemeanor indecent exposure and fined in General District Court, but police say the punishment was not providing a sufficient deterrent. On Nov. 2, a grand jury in Roanoke Circuit Court returned indictments on charges of soliciting to commit sodomy, a felony defined by state law as a "crime against nature." Offenders face up to five years in prison if convicted.

To bring a charge of soliciting sodomy, police need only show that the offender "commanded, entreated or otherwise attempted to persuade another person to commit a felony." Unlike the misdemeanor charge of prostitution, there is no legal requirement to prove a "substantial act in furtherance" on the offer for sex.

Mary Boenke, co-president of the Roanoke chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the Roanoke Times, "You don't have to commit [a felony], you only have to talk about it."

Police maintain there is more sex happening in the parks than there are conversations about sex. Lt. R.E. Carlisle of the Police Department's vice bureau was quoted as saying police charged only those men who indicated a willingness to have sex in the park with the undercover officer.

Attorney Sam Garrison says five of the men he is representing absolutely refute such claims. "The evil that they persistently say they are trying to combat is having sex in public places," Garrison said. "The trouble is, none of the people I'm personally aware of came anywhere close to having sex in a public place."

Garrison said it was undercover cops who usually approached the suspects and initiated the topic of sex. But entrapment requires proof that police plant the idea of committing a crime in the mind of a suspect who was not otherwise so inclined.

"Judges and juries may not find there was entrapment because the gay guy was predisposed to solicit," Garrison said. "But they may find that the police conduct was sufficiently enticing, even overbearing, that it will become a significant mitigating factor."

The Roanoke Times notes that in bringing solicitation for sodomy indictments, Roanoke authorities are essentially prosecuting men for talking about a crime that is seldom prosecuted when it's actually committed.

Chris Kowalczuk, another Roanoke lawyer who is representing one of the men charged this month, is already planning to challenge the soliciting law on the basis that the underlying charge -- sodomy -- is an unconstitutional violation of privacy. "Consenting adults in 1998 ought to be allowed to have sexual contact with one another without the invasion of the government," Kowalczuk said.

[Home] [News] [Virginia]