Sixty-one of 110 men arrested in an ambitious prostitution sting in Bellevue, Washington in August 2017 have had their cases dismissed. Police who made the arrests recorded audio of part of the operation in violation of Washington state law.
Bellevue Police Department and King County Sheriff’s personnel posted online sex-for-sale advertisements, which netted 110 responses. When the men, many of whom were local tech workers, showed up at the condo where the sex was to take place, they were arrested by police posing as sex workers.
There was one problem, however, with many of the arrests. According to Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett, cameras recording several of the arrests also inadvertently captured audio. Washington state law requires two-party consent in order to legally record the audio of conversations, so the accidental recording of audio necessitated dismissal of 61 cases.
According to Mylett, “Nobody was wired for sound and there were no microphones,” he said. “We can’t use audio and everybody knew it. There was no way in the world that any of the officers were going to jeopardize this operation.” He believes that a technical glitch is the likely reason for the illegal audio recordings.
Regardless of the reason for the recordings, police came in for their share of ridicule for their inordinate attention on a victimless crime. The Stranger, a local newspaper, snidely commented: “Perhaps the police will shift their focus to a much more serious threat to public health than non-trafficked adults consensually buying and selling sex: dogs in restaurants.”
The story is a reminder of the ramifications of two-party consent laws, which require the consent of all parties to a conversation in order to make an audio recording. Currently, only nine states are true two-party consent states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Sources: www.thestranger.com, www.dmlp.org
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