Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color and sex workers' rights advocate convicted of "manifesting prostitution" while walking down an Arizona street last April, today saw the overturning of a verdict that many advocates consider biased, reports Think Progress.
Because an appeals court has now ruled that Jones was not given a fair trial, her case could be retried.
Though today's decision does not vacate her charges, Jones's overturned conviction is still a victory for the activist, who has stated that she was profiled by police simply for being a black transgender woman. The fact that Jones is not herself a sex worker — but a student and advocate who has publicly criticized Phoenix's Project ROSE sex work diversion program — led her surpporters to declare that the true "crime" she was convicted of was "walking while trans."
The phrase evokes a national trend in which law enforcement disproportionately criminalizes trans women — especially women of color — for simply daring to be themselves in public.
Jones was arrested in May 2013 after police claimed that she had engaged in behavior that's illegal in Phoenix: repeatedly engaging passersby in conversation while walking down the street. According to city ordinance, such an act — as well as waving at cars in an attempt to stop them, asking someone if they are a police officer, or attempting to touch someone's genitals — is an indication that one intends to sell sex, or "manifest prostitution."
However, as Jones's defense argued in appeal proceedings last November, the statute may be unconstitutionally vague in that it "bans pure speech," according to Jean-Jacques Cabou, one of Jones's lawyers. To secure her initial conviction on prostitution-related charges, the prosecution used Jones's past prostitution convictions against her — a move the Arizona appeals court considered unfair.
“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 court also noted that the original trial was in error because it did not convene a jury, and did not properly address the constitutionality of her arrest.
Speaking with BuzzFeed News, Jones lauded the Court's decision but noted that it does not address many of the underlying issues that may have led to her arrest under Phoenix's broad "manifesting prostitution" statute.
"I think there is a bigger issues that needs to be addressed: This law needs to be thrown out because it unfairly targets women, transgender women, and people of color living in poverty," she explained. "Police wouldn't [arrest] a man standing on the corner talking to a passerby."
Jones has raised nationwide attention to these issues through her ongoing case, receiving support from the American Civil Liberties Union and from actress Laverne Cox, among others. Phoenix prosecutors have not yet announced whether they will seek a new trial.