A Los Angeles judge Tuesday declared unconstitutional a section of state law requiring that a minimum three-year prison sentence be imposed on anyone convicted of encouraging an adult to become a prostitute.
Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz ruled that the punishment was too cruel and unusual to apply to Norma Jean Almodovar, a former civilian traffic officer for the Los Angeles Police Department who became a call girl.
"In this case, I think it would be unconstitutional to . . . say to this lady at this stage of her life that she has to do three years in state prison," Munoz said. "The punishment is clearly out of proportion to (her) actions."
Munoz ordered Almodovar placed on probation for three years.
Almodovar, 33, was convicted by a jury in Munoz's court of pandering for attempting to recruit a 50-year-old female traffic officer as a prostitute.
Almodovar's defense was that she was merely trying to do the officer a favor by arranging a meeting with a wealthy businessman willing to pay for sex.
Almodovar claimed that the officer approached her as part of a setup by unnamed police officials, who were anxious to discourage her from completing a semi-autobiographical novel that she said details her sexual escapades during 10 years with the Police Department. A police spokesman has denied the charge.
"You understand you're out of the prostitution business at this point?" the judge asked her.
Almodovar, who has portrayed herself as a crusader for prostitutes' rights, replied meekly, "Yes."
"Don't test me," Munoz warned. "There's plenty of people in state prison who didn't believe me, and that's where I'll put you" if terms of probation are violated.
Both the county Probation Department and the state Department of Corrections, which had custody of Almodovar for 85 days to evaluate her, concluded that she was a suitable candidate for probation. She has no prior criminal record.
However, since 1983, the Legislature has made prison a mandatory penalty for pandering.
Almodovar's prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard Weber, said his office will appeal the judge's ruling.
Weber had argued for prison, noting that Almodovar had once said publicly that if she were afforded probation, she would continue working as a $200-an-hour call girl.
However, Munoz said the Legislature's intent was to round up "Hollywood Boulevard pimps with a string of girls," not people such as Almodovar.
Almodovar's attorney, Richard C. Chier, said his client plans to finish her novel and continue working to legalize prostitution.