Human trafficking is the legal name for slavery, but these laws aren’t limited to only involuntary servitude but also include forced sexual encounters. In fact, if you break California’s pimping and pandering laws and the prostitute in question is a minor, you could also be charged with violating human trafficking laws in California under Penal Code 236.1 (PC), even if you did not force the minor in any way. If you have been accused of this serious offense, contact a San Diego human trafficking defense attorney as soon as possible.
Is Human Trafficking a Serious Problem in California?
Yes. In fact, more human trafficking occurs in California than in any other state. The state continues to rank as #1 in the nation, whether considering only instances involving either forced labor or forced sex. That being said, because California is also the most populous state, we do not rank #1 in human trafficking per capita —that dubious distinction belongs to Mississippi.
As for cities, San Diego is home to the 14th highest rate of human trafficking in the US, even above Los Angeles.
While the volume of human trafficking in California has actually dropped significantly over the past few years, state legislators continue to work to reduce these numbers even further. In the near future, this offense will likely be classified as a “serious felony,” meaning it will be punishable under the state’s three strikes law.
California Sex Trafficking Law
In California, someone has committed broken the law if they deprived someone of their personal liberty to obtain forced labor or services, including sex acts. You can also be charged if you deny someone of their personal liberty with the intent to commit a crime of a sexual nature, such as pimping and pandering, child pornography, extortion or blackmail, and other laws regarding commercial sex acts and child exploitation.
You can even be charged if you try to persuade a minor to engage in prostitution or other commercial sex acts with the intent to violate one of the previously mentioned laws. So, if you received a commission from a brothel for recruiting new prostitutes and convinced a 17-year-old to become a prostitute so she could pay off her family’s debts, you could be convicted of this crime, even if you believe the girl seemed eager to do the work.
Who Can Face Human Trafficking Charges?
Someone does not need to abduct a person and force them to work or have sex to be convicted of this offense. Simply depriving someone of their personal liberty is considered a violation of the law.
For example, if a company imported Chinese workers to sew clothes in an illegal sweatshop and wouldn’t let them leave under threat of injury, a person who watched the workers and made sure they didn’t leave could also be accused of human trafficking, even if they didn’t force anyone to work.
What is the Penalty for Human Trafficking in California?
Human trafficking is a very serious felony charge. If you are convicted of doing this crime with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, you could face between 5 and 12 years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
The sentence is greater for those convicted of human trafficking with the intent to engage in a commercial sex act, child pornography, extortion, or a similar crime related to the sexual exploitation of a minor. In these cases, the offense is punishable by between 8 and 20 years in prison, fines of up to $500,000, and mandatory registration as a sex offender. This penalty is the same for those who persuade minors to engage in commercial sexual acts.
Those who persuaded a minor to engage in commercial sex acts could be sentenced to 5 to 12 years in prison, but if they used force, fear, violence, or threats of injury against the victim, the prison term could be anywhere from 15 years to life. Additionally, those convicted for this offense will also be required to pay fines of up to $500,000 and mandatory sex offender registration.
Anyone involved in these cases, even hotel employees that willingly look the other way when they see signs of sex trafficking, can also be sued in civil courts and be forced to pay damages.
Fighting The Charges
If you have been accused of human trafficking under 236.1 (PC), take these charges seriously and immediately contact an attorney. Depending on the facts and circumstances, a skilled criminal defense lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea bargain to have the charges reduced to a much less serious offense. In some cases, you may be able to avoid a conviction altogether because you were falsely accused or there is insufficient evidence to prove your guilty.
Unfortunately, it can be very easy to say something that may hurt your defense when you have been accused of this crime. Always refuse to speak to the police without your lawyer present. If you know you are under investigation, also avoid speaking with the alleged victim, as they may call you with the police listening in on the conversation. Since these are cases also made through seizure and analysis of phones and emails, only work with a lawyer knowledgeable about search and seizure laws.
If you believe you are under investigation for violating human trafficking laws, please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with San Diego lawyer Peter M. Liss.