Court overturns Clark County anti-prostitution ordinance
March 16, 2006
CARSON CITY (AP) – An ordinance targeting pushy Las Vegas-area prostitutes was overturned Thursday by Nevada Supreme Court justices who said it’s so vague that high school cheerleaders could be arrested for flagging down motorists for a car wash.
By failing to spell out circumstances for which someone could be arrested for prostitution loitering, the ordinance “gives officers too much discretion in enforcing its provisions” and could lead to absurd results, Chief Justice Bob Rose wrote.
“For example, high school cheerleaders advertising a carwash fundraiser from a sidewalk or a corner could be subject to arrest … as could effusive tourists celebrating a public holiday by strolling the streets and waving to cars and other passers-by,” Rose said.
The ruling favored Lani L. Silvar, who was charged under the Clark County ordinance with misdemeanor “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.”
Under the ordinance, police could arrest someone who “repeatedly beckons to, stops, attempts to stop or engage persons passing by in conversation, or repeatedly stops or attempts to stop motor vehicle operators by hailing, waiving of arms or other bodily gestures.”
Silvar was arrested in 2003 by Las Vegas Metro Detective J. Signorello, who said Silvar got into his unmarked car and asked, “Hey honey, you dating?” Police say that’s a street phrase for soliciting prostitution.
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The detective said he wasn’t “dating,” and then identified himself as an officer and arrested Silvar. He also said she admitted that she had been offering him sex for money, and a police check turned up an outstanding warrant based on another prostitution charge.
Susan D. Burke, Silvar’s lawyer, had said the wording “criminalizes totally legal behavior” and could lead to the arrest of people going out of their way to “hook up” with someone else for a date.
Burke, in legal briefs filed in advance of a high court hearing in October, said a woman tourist with “the bad taste to dress in flashy, cheap and somewhat revealing clothing” might mistakenly wave to an undercover officer thinking he’s a friend, and be arrested.
The ordinance encourages arbitrary enforcement by police, Burke said, adding that it anticipates overt activity that has not yet occurred, such as soliciting or actual prostitution – which are prohibited under separate ordinances.
Deputy Clark County District Attorney Sonia Jimenez argued that the loitering ordinance wasn’t vague, and people stopped by officers wouldn’t be arrested if they had an explanation for their activity that overcomes an officer’s “reasonable suspicion.”