Virginia Sting Operations Challenged
August 20, 2003
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.—The U.S. Supreme Court’s
decision last June striking down the Texas sodomy law and other state laws
that prohibit private, consensual relations between two adults is being cited
as a means to declare as unconstitutional Virginia’s “felony
A motion filed recently by attorney Jennifer Stanton and supported by the
American Civil Liberties Union aims to stop widespread Virginia police sting
operations set up in gay cruising areas.
Of immediate concern are indictments brought against 26 men who were
arrested in a police sting operation at a Harrisonburg bookstore. The local
district attorney Marsha Garst reasoned that since the law being enforced was
to prevent what she termed “public sodomy” she was free to press the
state’s case against the men.
Virginia’s law barring sodomy is a blanket prohibition of oral and anal
sex, with no mention of the distinction between public and private. As sodomy
is a felony in Virginia, invitation to engage in the behavior is read as
criminal solicitation and prosecuted as such. Though defenders of the law say
the stings are set up to prevent public lewdness, its many critics point out
that even the spoken invitation to engage in sexual activity in a separate,
completely private location is grounds for prosecution under the law.
Kent Willis of the Virginia
ACLU asserted any arrest based on Virginia’s sodomy law must now be
considered invalid. He noted that the Supreme Court’s decision did nothing
to undo laws prohibiting obscene exhibitions or indecent exposure, which the
police may still freely prosecute.
Willis insisted that a spoken invitation to engage in gay sex, something
the Supreme Court has ruled can no longer be considered a prosecutable
offense, should no longer be considered a felony in the state of Virginia.
Stanton is representing a man who was arrested for “felony
solicitation” when he spoke to an undercover officer loitering in a toilet
stall. Though no lewd activity ensued, he was arrested and charged with a
felony under Virginia law.
The motion filed by the defense team asks that Virginia’s law prohibiting
solicitation of an illegal sex act be declared unconstitutional under the
provisions of the court’s decision under Lawrence v. Texas.
Circuit Judge Edward Hanson Jr. has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 1.
[Home] [News] [Virginia]