Last edited: November 06, 2003

Virginia Sting Operations Challenged

Datalounge, 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 solicitation” law.

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.

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