In a rare happy ending for a transgender individual caught up in the legal system, the ACLU reported on January 26 that the Superior Court of Arizona has overturned Phoenix social-studies student and activist Monica Jones's April 2014 misdemeanor conviction of manifesting intent to solicit prostitution.
The case hinged on the May 2013 arrest of Jones under the Phoenix ordinance which gives police extensive discretion in determining persons intending to engage in prostitution. Prior to her arrest, Jones had been an active protestor of Project Rose an Arizona State University ( ASU ) initiative that partnered with Phoenix police and city prosecutors to round up suspected sex-workers andwithout providing them access to legal counseloffer them a choice between engaging in the program or facing prosecution.
Jones's conviction the following year was based upon the testimony of the arresting officerthe only witness the prosecution calledalongside a challenge of her credibility owing to a prior conviction and their contention that she had a "motive to lie" in her testimony in order to avoid a negative outcome to the trial. The judge deliberated for only three hours. Immediately after the decision, Jones told Windy City Times that she refused to give up. "This is just one battle," she said. "The war is far from over."
Now, for the moment, Jones's war has been won. In his January 22 decision Superior Court Judge Crane McClennan wrote "for the trial court to have concluded Defendant was not credible and thus guilty because she was facing conviction and sentence deprived Defendant of a fair trial."
Senior Counsel at the ACLU of Arizona Dan Pochoda told windy City Times that he is thrilled with the decision. "We feel terrific," he said. "And for the months of work by many folks on the ground not the least of which were the people from S.W.O.P. [Sex Workers Outreach Project] and Monica herself. In our opinion [Monica] was clearly targeted by law enforcement which had been working hand-in-hand with Project Rose to bring clients as fodder to that intervention program. We believe she was targeted because of her protests and as a black trans woman who are much too often disproportionately targeted."
Another victory for Jones and Phoenix activists occurred in November of last year when Project Rose was terminated. "I got an email from the public relations and communications person for the ASU School of Social Work saying that, in his opinion, they had not taken full account of the issues the ACLU raised in setting it up," Pochoda said. "So many things contributed to [it's end] including the terrific work by organizers on the streets."
In a January 27 interview with the Arizona Republic, the program's creator ASU Associate Professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz claimed that the program had been "put on hold" due to "officer availability, not controversy."
Meanwhile the article started that another program called Phoenix First Step is in the pilot stages.
McClennan did not rule upon the constitutionality of the city's manifestation ordinance since the lower court was "never asked to rule on those issues, there is no ruling for this Court to assess," he wrote.
"It's not surprising. It was a quick and dirty process," Pochoda said referring to the municipal court trial. "You don't get a jury because the penalty is not large enough where you're entitled to one. In other jurisdictions the statute has been found to be unconstitutional. It violates of the First Amendment and Due Process because it's too vague and allows the cop on the beat to decide who to pick up. There are no criteria set by the legislative body that limit the discretion of the police to arrest. So you can be charged for legal activity such as speaking to cops on the street."
Jones told Windy City Times that prior to McClennan's decision she felt her chances were bleak. "I was thinking how I was going to do thirty days in jail and get through school," she said. "It has really made me happy that this has come to a close. I was calling my parents and everyone. I was so excited."
However Jones remains concerned that the prosecutor will attempt to retry her "just to prove a point."
"We would hope that [the prosecutor] would understand that there is no good or legitimate governmental interest in retrying her," Pochoda said. "And that it will just cause further unnecessary use of public resources."
Meanwhile, both Jones and Pochoda are going to take the fight to the city's ordinance. "It needs to be thrown out," Jones said. "These laws give the police discretion to target trans women of color. I also think that using someone's priors to convict them is wrong."
"If Monica is retried, it will be very much a front and center part of the defense that she is being tried under an unconstitutional statute," Pochoda asserted. "If they drop the charges, which would be terrific, we certainly will be looking for other avenues to challenge the provision."
Jones said she will graduate in December with a masters degree in Social Work. She also intends to keep up a travelling and speaking schedule about her experiences. "There's talk of me going to Geneva to discuss the laws that affect sex-workers," she said adding that she has also set her sights on the 2016 International AIDS Conference in South Africa. "There's a lot more that needs to be done."