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Monica Jones found guilty under prostitution ordinance
by Gretchen Rachel Blickensderfer
2014-04-11

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Monica Jones pre-trial. Photo from SWOP Phoenix


According to Monica Jones, she walked into a Phoenix Arizona Municipal Courtroom on April 11 with the cards already stacked against her.

Jones was arrested in May 2013 under the city's manifestation of prostitution ordinance that gives police broad discretionary powers in deciding if a woman has intent to commit an act of prostitution. As a transgender woman of color, Jones claims she was an instant target. The day before her arrest, she had joined a protest of Project Rose—a program developed at Arizona State University in partnership with a Catholic charity that rounds up suspected sex workers and offers them a choice between classes at Bethany Bible Church in Phoenix or jail.

Jones claimed that she was simply walking down a Phoenix street when a man in a truck pulled up in front of her and beckoned her over, offering her a ride to a local bar. She accepted and the man subsequently propositioned her. She asked to be let out of the car but he refused. The man turned out to be a police officer working as part of the Project Rose sweep. Jones declined to participate in Project Rose and set out to fight the manifestation of prostitution charge in court. ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Dan Pochoda submitted a brief with Jones' attorney Milo Iniguez, stating the ordinance violated her First Amendment rights by—among other things—forbidding her to express her gender identity.

The courtroom was packed with Jones' supporters. Jones was represented by Pochoda and Iniguez. The judge swiftly denied Pochoda's brief. "He said he was bound by an Arizona Appellate Court decision that had upheld—some 15 years ago—the constitutionality of this provision," Pochoda said. "It was a very skimpy opinion to say the least. Two paragraphs basically. Our point was that the Arizona Appellate Court is not the final arbiter of the U.S. federal constitution. But the judge clearly had decided—well before the argument—that he wasn't going to—in any way—take on the decision. He could have."

During the nearly three-hour proceedings, the prosecution presented only one witness—the arresting officer. Throughout his testimony, he referred to Jones with the pronouns "he" and "him." The judge deliberated for less than a minute before handing down a guilty verdict. Jones was sentenced to thirty days. She will be forced to serve that term in a men's facility.

Leah Carmine is an organizer for the Sex Worker Outreach Project (SWOP) in Phoenix and was in the courtroom when Maricopa County Judge Hercules Dellas announced the verdict. "It was Monica's word against the undercover cop," she said. "The cop was vague and inconsistent in his testimony. He misgendered Monica 19 times in his police report, which really illustrated the transphobia of the whole situation. "

The officer alleged that Jones "exposed his breast." Jones said she was simply wearing a low-cut dress. Jones' defense was consistently dismissed as hearsay. There was no video tape or a recording of any kind taken by the police of the incident. According to Carmine—the case was determined by Jones asking the arresting officer if he was a cop. Under the statute, this was enough to charge Jones with Manifestation. Dellas indicated that Jones had an incentive to lie in her testimony because of the sentence she was facing. This—alongside her prior arrest for Manifestation—was enough for the Dellas to conclude that she was guilty.

"It was clear to me that the judge was validating the cop's testimony over Monica's," Carmine said. "It was horrifying. Her story was completely disregarded. The racism and the transphobia in that courtroom were blatant. As the trial unfolded, many of us could clearly see how everything was set up against her. So the verdict was shocking but not surprising."

"Before I went in, they'd already found me guilty," Jones told Windy City Times. "The question was 'who was the credible source? The black trans woman or the white cisgender cop?' The cop's testimony was considered evidence and mine was considered hearsay."

The ACLU of Arizona has made a request for a full transcript of the trial. "Generally, in a criminal jury trial there's an instruction to the jury that says that the testimony of an arresting officer is not considered credible merely because that person is a police officer," Pochoda said. "It was reported to me that the judge found Monica's testimony less credible because she was facing a mandatory sentence and because of her prior conviction. Both opinions seem to me to be erroneous and improper because her conviction was not for a crime of falsifying or hiding the truth. The usual burden—that should be on the prosecution to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt—is basically eliminated when the judge is going to assume every defendant has an intent to lie because they are facing a sentence. The defendant is always facing some kind of penalty."

Jones said that the verdict both shook and hurt her. "I kind of knew it was coming because of all the things that were being held against me, like being black and trans and from a poor neighborhood," she said. "But I still had hope. I could not have asked for a better lawyer and I still had a little faith in the justice system up until the very last minute."

Pochoda said they will be asking for a new trial in Superior Court. "We'll do whatever is required," he said.

Jones is filing for an appeal and is ready to continue the fight "This is just one battle," said Jones. "The war is far from over."

From a press release

PHOENIX—- More than 50 supporters rallied in front of the Phoenix Court house April 11 in support of ASU student and anti-1062 activist Monica Jones, who was found guilty of what has been called "walking while trans."

Jones was facing charges of "manifestation of intent to prostitute," a vague and discriminatory law that criminalizes activities like waving at cars, talking to passersbys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer.

The ACLU of Arizona joined Jones' lawyer in contesting the constitutionality of the manifestation statute. Dan Pochoda of the ACLU explained in his arguments, "The statute eviscerates first amendment rights."

In a packed courtroom filled with supporters wearing "I Stand With Monica Jones: Stop Profiling Trans Women of Color" t-shirts, the judge found Jones guilty based solely on the statements of the police officer who targeted for her race and gender. Supporters across Arizona and the nation are in an uproar about the injustice of this ruling.

In Arizona and across the country, trans women of color like Jones are routinely profiled and swept up in the criminal justice system on prostitution-related charges, due to a phenomenon many call "walking while trans"—a widely held belief by law enforcement and others that all transgender women are criminals. Because of the injustice that leads people to take pleas against their best interest due to lack of community support, Jones decided she was going to fight the charges, so that no more trans women, sex workers, or people profiled as sex workers would have to face these injustices.

Jones has remained adamant about her innocence, and that sex workers need rights, not arrests. Jones stated after the verdict, "As an African American and as a woman, the justice system has failed me."

In light of this devastating ruling, SWOP Phoenix ( Sex Worker Outreach Project ) and Monica Jones will fight the case in an appeals process, while building national and international momentum against unjust policies that target trans women, people of color, and sex workers. SWOP Phoenix is calling on people from around the country to keep demanding justice for Jones. Meanwhile, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is monitoring the trial as an example of discriminatory policing and retaliation on activists organizing for human rights.

Jones states, "I am saddened by the injustice that took place at my trial this morning, but we are not giving up the fight. It's time that we end the stigma and the criminalization of sex work, the profiling of trans women of color, and the racist policing system that harms so many of us."

See Windy City Times original story here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Arizona-student-fights-for-right-to-walk-while-trans/46817.html .


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