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Using profile evidence as substantive proof of guilt

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by: Ryan Scott • November 19, 2018 • no comments

It is not unusual, in a promoting prostitution case, that the defendant is in jail when the crimes allegedly occurred. Tape recorded jail calls will reveal that the defendant sought to have money placed on his books by a woman whose phone number is often used in backpage ads, which offer her services as an escort, though nothing expressly illegal is described in the ad itself. The money that is subsequently placed on defendant's books at the jail is, under the theory used to obtain an indictment, "pursuant to an agreement or understanding that the money, goods, property, services or something else of value is derived from a prostitution activity."

In these cases, the alleged prostitute never testifies, and it is up to a police officer to testify as an expert that those backpage advertisements are consistent with "prostitution activity." This falls under the category of "profile evidence," because there is no direct evidence of this particular person exchanging sex for money, but rather, that she does things -- such as placing lawful backpage advertiesements -- that other people -- who did exchange sex for money -- also did.

Is that enough to prove that the money placed on the books was derived from prostitution activity?

It shouldn't be, and there are a number of ways to attack it. One way would be to move for a limitation on the jury's consideration of the officer's profile evidence testimony. Specifically, the jury should be prohibited from using the profile evidence as substantive evidence that she in fact prostituted herself.

Case law in Oregon is thin or non-existent when it comes to the uses for which profile evidence can be put. Other jurisdictions have more developed case law in these areas. In 'AZ v. Escalante, (issued Sept 14, 2018), the Arizona Supreme Court -- under their version of the plain error standard -- reversed convictions based on the use of profile evidence as substantive proof of guilt, which is impermissible because "of the 'risk that a defendant will be convicted not for what he did but for what others are doing.' [Lee, 91 Ariz at 54.]"

The AZ court wrote:

The prosecutor here introduced drug-courier profile evidence. He elicited testimony from officers who, after relating their training and experience in drug interdiction, described typical behaviors of drug-traffickers, thereby suggesting that because Escalante also engaged in such behaviors, he too was a drug-trafficker.

The court noted that such evidence can have value, but not as substantive evidence of guilt. If you're representing someone whose is charged with promoting or compelling prostitution because profile evidence is the only evidence the non-testifying witness engaged in acts of prostitution, use AZ v Escalante and the cases it cites to limit the jury's consideration of that evidence as substantive proof of prostitution activities. Then, move for a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the state's case. If you won the former, you'll likely win the latter.