Media Contact

Alessandra Soler, ACLU of Arizona, (602) 773-6006,asoler@acluaz.org
J. Cabou, Perkins Coie, 602-351-8003, jcabou@perkinscoie.com

February 23, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PHOENIX – Full-time Arizona State University student and activist Monica Jones and her attorneys, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union and Emmy-nominated actress Laverne Cox, filed an appeal today of her conviction under Phoenix’s “manifesting” intent to engage in prostitution ordinance.

Jones, a transgender woman of color, was convicted in April in Phoenix Municipal Court of violating this unconstitutionally vague and overbroad law—Phoenix Municipal Code Section 23-52(A)(3). The law criminalizes waving at cars, talking to passersby and asking if someone is a police officer. It infringes on protected free speech rights, including the right to express one’s gender identity.

“The officer who arrested me profiled me as a sex worker because I am transgender, I am a woman of color and I live in an area that is perceived to be low income,” Jones said.

The ACLU and the ACLU of Arizona, along with the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Urban Justice Center, filed an amicus brief on Jones’ behalf.

“Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are too often perceived by law enforcement to be engaged in prostitution solely because of their transgender status,” said American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Chase Strangio. “Vague and overbroad laws, like Phoenix’s manifesting ordinance, give too much discretion to police officers, encouraging biased policing against women of color, particularly transgender women of color, people living in poverty, and other members of the LGBT community.”

The amicus brief argues, in part, that Jones was assumed to be engaging in sex work because of how she looked.

During Jones’ bench trial, the arresting officer stated that Jones’ presence near her home, in an area he claimed is “known for prostitution,” and her outfit, which he described as a “black, tight-fitting dress,” suggested to him that Jones was manifesting intent to engage in prostitution. The arresting officer at trial, and about 20 times in his written report, referred to Jones as a man.

“Our society is unfortunately filled with negative assumptions about trans women,” said Laverne Cox, an advocate for LGBT rights and a transgender woman of color who is currently part of the cast of Netflix’s hit series “Orange Is the New Black.”

“This law allows all of those assumptions to be acted upon, emboldening officers to arrest people just because of how they look or act. Walking while trans should not be a crime, but this law can certainly make it one,” Cox said.

Jones’ attorneys at Perkins Coie LLP argued in her appeal filed today that her conviction must be reversed.

“Jones was convicted of a misdemeanor she didn’t commit, pursuant to an unconstitutional statute, in a trial where she was denied the jury to which she was constitutionally entitled, and where the judge expressly found her guilty based on his impermissible consideration of her potential punishment and of her prior misdemeanor criminal history,” said Jean-Jacques "J" Cabou, a partner in Perkins Coie’s Phoenix office. “This law is unconstitutional, her trial was unfair, and her conviction should be reversed.”

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