An Arizona appeals court has vacated a conviction against a transgender woman who was profiled for sex work, creating new hope that she might receive justice.
Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color, has been a vocal critic of Phoenix’s sex work diversion program, Project ROSE, because of the way it sweeps many vulnerable young women into the criminal justice system. The women are picked up off the street — without actually being arrested — and they are forced to either complete a Catholic Charities-run diversion program or they are then put under arrest. One of the reasons for its poor success rate is because any individual who has previously been arrested for sex work is ineligible for the program, thus many more women are arrested than actually “saved” from sex work. Because Phoenix’s law loosely interprets many behaviors as “intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution,” many individuals are swept up who are not even engaging in sex work. That’s exactly what happened to Jones.
When Phoenix police were conducting a Project ROSE street sweep in May of 2013, Jones spoke at a community event against the program. The following night she was arrested by an undercover cop. Due to past convictions for prostitution, she was ineligible for the program, and was later convicted of “manifestation of prostitution,” simply for walking down the street. Transgender women are frequently profiled as sex workers — in part because discrimination and family rejection often force trans women onto the street, where many turn to sex work to survive.
The Arizona appeals court ruled that Jones’ conviction be vacated, in part because the trial court used her past record against her. “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,” the Court wrote. “The conviction must therefore be reversed and remanded to a new trial.” The Court also acknowledged that there were issues related to the constitutionality of how Jones was arrested and convicted that were not addressed in the original trial.
Jones celebrated Monday’s ruling, telling the ACLU that her victory was a “small win in our larger fight for justice.” She implored, “There is so much more work that needs to be done so that no one will have to face what I have no matter who they are or what past convictions they have.” Jean-Jacques “J” Cabou, a partner at the law firm that represented Jones in her appeal, described her situation as such: “Monica was convicted in an unconstitutional trial, under an unconstitutional law, of a crime she didn’t commit.”
The decision only vacates the verdict, not the charges, which means that Jones must continue to fight for justice.