HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Sex assault charges were dismissed Wednesday against 16 women who were arrested back in April during a Honolulu police prostitution sting.
"Although the conduct might have constituted a technical violation of the law, proof beyond a reasonable doubt could not be established. Therefore, these cases were dismissed," said Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro.
The women were arrested for sexual assault in the fourth degree, which includes the word "compulsion," defined in the Hawaii Revised Statutes as the "absence of consent."
The decision to drop the charges has many wondering if the Honolulu Police Department conducted the operation without consulting with the prosecutor's office first.
One legal expert says media coverage may have led to the decision.
"They may have been on the same page as long as there were no news stories on it. They may have been on the same page as long as people weren't looking at these cases. Once people started looking at these cases saying what you're doing is wrong, once the light is shine then the questions becomes, am I going to do the right thing," said University of Hawaii Law Professor Ken Lawson.
"Either way, based on the nature of the charges and the facts of the underlining case, it was going to be dismissed anyway," Lawson said.
"It seems that HPD keeps looking for opportunities to have sexual contact with targets of prostitution," said Defense Attorney Myles Breiner.
Breiner represents several of the women who were arrested. He says although the charges have been dismissed, his clients aren't totally off the hook.
"They were arrested, they were charged. These are things they require that they disclose to immigration. So there's all kinds of collateral consequences that Mr. Kaneshiro and HPD should have thought about before they instituted this ridiculous program," Breiner said.
Attorney Bill Harrison also represents several of the women. He said HPD needs to reevaluate their procedures.
"It sends obviously the wrong message to the public at large and also sends a message the prosecutors and the police officers that they can do whatever they want to do and get away with it," said Harrison.
HPD said most officers don't like enforcing prostitution laws, and many feel uncomfortable. But they know they have a job to do. They said it does not change their goal to crackdown on prostitution.
Both Breiner and Harrison said their next step is getting their clients' records expunged.