As awareness of human trafficking across the United States has grown, efforts by law enforcement to combat the act have intensified. As a matter of fact, the United States DOJ (Department of Justice) identifies bringing human traffickers to justice as one of its top priorities. That said, the department has substantially increased prosecutions, convictions, and investigations for human trafficking.

If you have been charged with or are under investigation for a federal crime associated with human trafficking, you may be subject to severe consequences if convicted. You should act fast to protect your rights, freedom, and future. One of the ways you can do this is by contacting an experienced federal human trafficking attorney.

At Sex Crimes Attorney, we are devoted to aggressively fighting cases against our clients and protecting their rights. We boast the resources and experience necessary to successfully defend against human trafficking charges both at the federal and state level. The sooner our skilled lawyers start working on a case, the higher the chances of successfully defending against the charges. If charged with federal human trafficking in California, call us for further consultations.

Human Trafficking Overview

Human trafficking, also called trafficking in persons, entails taking advantage of someone else through coercion, fraud, or force. Per the Department of Justice (DOJ), the offense involves coercing or compelling people to engage in commercial sex or provide labor or services.

Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar criminal undertaking that most people consider contemporary-world slavery. It happens worldwide, which makes it the largest criminal venture, second only to drug trafficking. The crime of human trafficking takes different forms and impacts several people in the U.S., both foreigners and U.S. nationals.

Human trafficking usually affects persons of all ages and genders, with victims being coerced into domestic servitude, sexual acts, and other kinds of forced labor for no or little pay. Because of its link to sex offenses, human trafficking draws significant attention from federal and state law enforcement. If charged with this crime in California, you may face severe consequences at the federal and state levels.

Since the term “trafficking” implies transportation, most human trafficking charges entail supposed movement across international or state borders. Transportation across international or state lines is the element that makes human trafficking fall under federal jurisdiction with stiffer consequences than the state-level version of the offense.

A prevalent instance of human trafficking includes a case where persons from abroad are recruited to travel to the U.S. after being promised that they will obtain employment opportunities there. The traffickers will generally help these people unlawfully enter the U.S., usually assisting them to avoid immigration personnel at the border.

Once they are in the U.S., the traffickers obtain some form of employment for these persons and inform them that they have to work to reimburse the costs of bringing them into the country. These persons are mainly ordered to work until they pay their debt, but they earn so little that they cannot fully pay the entire amount the human traffickers want.

In cases involving sex trafficking, victims are often forced to engage in prostitution to repay the supposed debt. In most cases, the victims are underage girls forced to work in brothels where human traffickers can control their activities.

As federal crimes are charged in federal court, you want to understand what laws are involved and work closely with a federal human trafficking attorney with expertise practicing in California federal courts.

Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Various international treaties are meant to end the crime of trafficking in persons, such as the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act), which was signed into law in October 2000. This is a detailed federal law that aims to protect any victim of human trafficking. Congress has so far reapproved the TVPA twice. The first reapproval was in 2003, while the second was in 2005.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act not only requires severe punishment for those found guilty of trafficking in persons, but it also rules human trafficking as a violation that can be prosecuted under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law.

The TVPA also permits judges to order the accused to pay restitution to human trafficking victims. In addition, it allows the victims to bring civil lawsuits against the persons charged with exploiting them. This makes it even more essential to involve a federal human trafficking defense attorney once you are accused of human trafficking.

Federal Human Trafficking Laws

There are various federal laws under which you may be prosecuted for an offense connected to human trafficking, including:

18 U.S Code 1581— Obstructing Enforcement; Peonage

This law prohibits a person from holding another in a peonage condition or debt servitude, returning them in a peonage condition, or arresting them for returning or putting them in a peonage condition. Peonage is closely related to involuntary servitude. 18 U.S. Code 1581 prohibits using force, threats of legal coercion, or threats of force to compel someone to work against their will. Note that the victim's involuntary servitude must be tied to debt payment.

It is also an offense under this statute to interfere with or obstruct the enforcement of this law. If found guilty, you will face similar punishment as someone who committed the offense prohibited under this law.

18 U.S Code 1583 Enticement Into Slavery

Under 18 U.S. Code 1573, it is a crime to kidnap or carry away someone else with the intent to sell them into involuntary servitude or for the person to be held as a slave. It is also an offense to entice, persuade, or induce someone else to board any vessel or go to any other place with the intent that they may be held as or made a slave or sent abroad to be made or held as a slave. Lastly, this section criminalizes obstructing or any attempts to obstruct, interfere with, or prevent the police from enforcing this law.

18 U.S. Code 1591—Child Sex Trafficking

18 U.S. Code 1591 protects minors, a group that forms the largest percentage of victims affected by sex trafficking. Under this statute, sex trafficking of minors is an offense. It is also against the law to benefit from the sex trafficking of children. As we shall see later, a conviction is punishable based on the facts surrounding the case.

18 U.S Code 1589 — Forced Labor

18 U.S. Code 1589 was enacted as part of the TVPA. It makes it a crime to obtain or provide the services or labor of someone else through:

  • Physical restraint, threats of physical restraint, force, or threats of force to the individual.
  • Severe harm or threats of severe injury to the person or someone else.
  • Abuse or threatened abuse of legal process or law.
  • Any plan, pattern, or scheme meant to make the person believe that they or someone else would sustain physical restraint or harm if they did not offer the required services or labor.

This law also makes it a crime to knowingly benefit from participation in a venture that obtains or provides services or labor by the above means.

18 U.S Code 1584—Involuntary Servitude

18 U.S. Code 1584 criminalizes holding someone else in slavery—a condition of mandatory labor or service against their will. To be convicted under section 1584, the federal prosecutor must prove that you held the victim against their will by threats of legal coercion, force, or actual force.

18 U.S Code 1590—Trafficking With Regards to Forced Labor, Involuntary Servitude, or Peonage

Section 1590 criminalizes knowingly recruiting, harboring, transporting, facilitating, providing, or obtaining any person through coercion, fraud, or force to subject them to forced services or labor, involuntary servitude, slavery, peonage, or debt bondage in violation of this chapter.

22 U.S Code 7102—Sex Trafficking

22 U.S. Code 7102 criminalizes sex trafficking. Under this section, sex trafficking is described as recruiting, transporting, providing, harboring, soliciting, obtaining, or patronizing a person to participate in commercial sexual acts under given statutorily enumerated conditions. Commercial sexual acts are sexual acts for which money or any other valuable thing is received by or given to the individual offering the act.

Statutorily enumerated conditions include the application of coercion, fraud, or force. Apart from sex trafficking, this law also prohibits benefiting from sex trafficking. Violating this law is punishable by incarceration based on the circumstances of the offense.

Federal Consequences of Human Trafficking

Federal consequences for human trafficking charges vary based on the crime's nature and other related factors.

If you are convicted of violating Section 1581 of Title 18, you will face felony charges. A conviction will subject you to a prison sentence of up to twenty years. If the offense involved aggravated sexual assault, attempted murder, kidnapping, or if the victim passed away due to your actions, you will still face felony charges. A conviction will subject you to a fine, an indefinite federal prison sentence, or both.

Any attempt to interfere with or obstruct the authorities in enforcing Section 1581 will also subject you to similar consequences if convicted.

If you are caught enticing someone into slavery in violation of Chapter 1583 of Title 18, you will be subject to a fine, imprisonment for a period not exceeding thirty years, or both. If your crime led to the victim's demise or included kidnapping, attempts to kidnap, attempted murder, aggravated sexual abuse, or attempts of aggravated sexual abuse, you will be imprisoned indefinitely or for life.

You will face felony charges if caught holding or selling someone else in involuntary servitude, violating 18 U.S. Code 1584. A conviction will subject you to up to twenty years in federal prison. If your crime led to the victim suffering severe bodily harm or dying, you could be imprisoned for life. Life imprisonment could also apply if your crime involved kidnapping or attempted aggravated sexual abuse.

If you are caught benefiting from child sex trafficking in violation of Section 1591 of Title 18, you will face felony charges. A conviction carries the following penalties:

  • You would be imprisoned indefinitely, with the least sentence being fifteen years if the victim was a child below 14 years when you committed the crime.
  • You would be imprisoned indefinitely, with the least incarceration period being ten years in prison if the sex trafficking victim was above fourteen but below eighteen years when the crime happened.
  • Interfering with or obstructing the enforcement of this statute will subject you to consequences that include a fine or incarceration in federal prison for up to twenty years or both.

If found guilty of sex trafficking in violation of 22 U.S. Code 7102, the consequences will vary based on various factors, including the extent to which you were involved in perpetrating the crime. For example, you could be subject to seven years of a federal prison sentence if the prosecutor can prove you only participated in preparing to send the sex trafficking victims to the U.S.

If the prosecution can demonstrate that you were directly involved in committing sex trafficking, you could face a maximum of twenty years in federal prison. If you sexually assaulted the victim when committing the crime or the prosecution can show the victim was coerced to participate in sexual activity without their consent, you could be subject to life imprisonment in a federal prison.

The Requirement to Register as a Sex Offender

Based on the circumstances surrounding the specific crime, the judge may require you to comply with the sex offender registration requirement with the California sex offender registry. This is particularly true if your charges involve the sex trafficking of minors.

Federal vs. State Human Trafficking

Human trafficking can also be prosecuted at the state level. As mentioned, the federal government becomes involved if the crime involves movement across international or state borders. In California, human trafficking is prosecuted under PC 236.1. Various acts are considered human trafficking under California law, as follows:

236.1a PC, Forced Services or Labor

Per PC 236.1a, it is an offense to deprive someone else of their liberty or violate it with the specific intent to obtain forced services or labor.

236.1b PC, Trafficking In Persons for Child Pornography, Extortion, or Pimping

This subsection criminalizes depriving someone else of their liberty or violating their liberty with the specific intent to commit any of these crimes:

  • 266 PC, enticing a child to prostitution.
  • 266h PC, pimping.
  • 266i PC, pandering.
  • 266j PC, procuring a child below 16 years for lascivious or lewd acts.
  • 267 PC, abducting a person below 18 years for prostitution.
  • 311.2 or 311.1 PC, distributing or transporting child pornography.
  • 311.3 PC, duplicating, developing, exchanging, or printing child pornography.
  • 311.4 PC, employing children to engage in child pornography.
  • 311.5 PC, advertising obscene content.
  • 311.6 PC, producing obscene live performances.
  • 518 PC, blackmail/extortion.

236.1c PC, Causing a Child to Participate In Commercial Sexual Acts

Under 236.1c PC, it is an offense to persuade, induce, or cause a child to participate in commercial sex with the specific intent to commit any of the offenses listed above.

The Penalties of State-Level Human Trafficking

The penalties for human trafficking at the state level are more lenient than what you would face if convicted at the federal level. These penalties vary based on the section of PC 236.1 you have violated, but the offense is always considered a felony. 

A PC 236.1a violation will subject you to formal probation, five, eight, or twelve years in state prison, and a maximum fine of $500,000 upon conviction.

If convicted of violating 236.1b, you will face felony probation, eight, fourteen, or twenty years in state prison, and a maximum fine of $500,000. Additionally, you will be mandated to register as a sex offender for life per PC 290.

A violation of PC 236.1c will subject you to formal probation, five, eight, or twelve years in state prison, and a fine not exceeding $500,000. If you used fraud, fear, force, coercion, deceit, duress, menace, violence, or threats of illegal injury upon the victim or someone else to commit this crime, the possible state prison term will increase to between fifteen years and life imprisonment. You will also have to register as a sex offender for life if convicted under this law.

Defending Against Human Trafficking

Human trafficking instances attract significant attention from authorities and are intricate because of their connection to sex trafficking. That said, the burden of proving the crime lies with the prosecutor. This means the prosecution must demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that a crime occurred by submitting all the evidence necessary to justify a guilty verdict.

In many cases, the evidence includes video surveillance of abductions, DNA linking the accused to the crime scene, and witness testimony by one of the defendants.

Because of the intricate nature of human trafficking charges and the fact that these cases may be prosecuted in federal courts, it is essential to hire a skilled criminal defense lawyer right after you are detained for or charged with human trafficking. Most importantly, you should ensure the criminal defense attorney you hire has experience representing clients in federal courts and understands the procedures.

A good defense lawyer will assist you in preparing valid defenses to fight the charges against you. Possible defense strategies for human trafficking that your attorney could argue are the following:

Mistake of Fact

A mistake of fact can be an excellent defense strategy for an offense based on your knowledge of your actions when you perpetrated the act that resulted in the charges against you. It could be that you took your employee's or domestic servant's passport for safekeeping, thinking you had to do so to show you were adhering to immigration laws. Or, it could be that you introduced someone under the age of 18 to someone you expected they would have a sexual relationship with without anticipating that the relationship would involve sexual acts for money.

You Did Not Violate The Victim's Liberty

Not violating the victim's freedom is a good defense against human trafficking charges if your lawyer successfully demonstrates it before the court.

Transporting persons from location to location without the human trafficking aspect as described under the law is lawful. Having said this, in certain circumstances, you might be prosecuted for human trafficking because of a misunderstanding.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in dissecting the evidence against you to show you did not subject the supposed victim to forced labor or involuntary servitude and that they were at liberty to leave.

If the prosecutor cannot prove to the judge that you held the victim against their will, you cannot be convicted of human trafficking.

False Allegations

In certain cases, cases of human trafficking may be nothing more than wrongful allegations. The false allegations might be triggered by revenge, anger, or malice. For example, it could be because a worker is angry at their employer and has wrongly accused them of denying them their freedom. Or, it could be that the accused committed human trafficking by pandering and pimping, but the prostitutes working for them (the defendant) have filed false accusations.

The alleged human trafficking victims are often low-level prostitutes or employees of the undocumented immigrant group—people who can be motivated to accuse others of holding them against their will to gain lenient treatment or sympathy for themselves.

If the human trafficking charges against you are contingent on wrongful accusations, your defense lawyer can assist you in demonstrating that to the court.

Find a Criminal Defense Counsel Near Me

A human trafficking conviction has severe consequences, whether at the federal or state level. Thus, avoiding a guilty verdict should be the defendant's priority. If charged with human trafficking in California, you can rely on us at Sex Crimes Attorney. We have in-depth knowledge of federal and California human trafficking laws and are best placed to provide expert legal representation and counsel for your case.

Compared to other lawyers, we are not quick to judge depending on your case facts. Instead, we understand innocent people are accused of crimes all the time and work to ensure we achieve the most favorable outcome. Do not hesitate to call us at 888-666-8480 for a free, confidential consultation, during which we will review your case. Do not allow the charges against you to ruin your life. Let us defend you and help you regain your freedom.