The U.S. vigorously prosecutes human trafficking under Chapter 77 of Title 18 and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). While the U.S. had specific laws against slavery, involuntary servitude, and trafficking, the TVPA was the first comprehensive federal human trafficking law of its kind. It strengthened preventative measures and existing laws authorizing prosecutors to charge individuals with both sex and labor trafficking.
Allegations and charges revolving around human trafficking can be devastating to a person’s reputation, family life, and career. Federal prosecutors will use any means necessary under the law to gain convictions and appear tough on crime. If you are facing federal human trafficking charges, it is crucial that you begin working with a Houston human trafficking lawyer from the Law Offices of Ned Barnett as soon as possible.
The statutory and collateral consequences of a human trafficking conviction are too harsh to not work with a skilled and experienced attorney who will work to prove your innocence or minimize the consequences of conviction. Attorney Ned Barnett is not afraid to face federal prosecutors in court and is ready to aggressively defend your rights. He brings more than 30 years of experience as both a state and federal prosecutor and criminal lawyer to the table.
Defining Human Trafficking Under Federal Law
Sex trafficking means the recruitment, transportation, harboring, patronizing or soliciting of an individual for the purpose of a commercial sex act. A commercial sex act is any sexual act for which anything of value is given or received by any person. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of fraud, coercion, or force, for the purpose of subjecting that person to peonage, debt bondage, involuntary servitude or slavery.
The statutes under which you are criminally charged will depend on the exact circumstances in which you allegedly participated in sex or labor trafficking. To understand the statutes, the potential defenses, and their consequences, speak with a Houston human trafficking lawyer right away.
Federal Human Labor Trafficking Laws
A number of federal laws allow for the prosecution of individuals who traffic humans and force them into labor or the sex trade:
- Peonage under 18 U.S. Code §1581: It is unlawful for any individual to hold or return a person to the condition of peonage, which is also known as debt servitude and similar to involuntary servitude. An individual cannot use force, the threat of force, or coercion to make a person work against his or her free will.
- Involuntary Servitude under 18 U.S. Code §1584: No one can knowingly and willfully hold another person for any term of involuntary servitude or sell another person into any condition of involuntary servitude. This law requires that the victim of servitude be held by actual force, the threat of force, or threats of coercion. This can include threats to call immigration officials if the victim does not work.
- Forced Labor under 18 U.S. Code §1589: It is illegal for any person to knowingly provide or obtain services from a person by threats of serious harm or physical restraint against that or another person; or knowingly provide or obtain services by means of any scheme or plan intended to cause a person to believe that he or she or another person would be seriously harmed or restrained; or knowingly provide or obtain services by means of abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process.
- Trafficking Individuals With Respect to Forced Labor under 18 U.S. Code §1590: it is unlawful for anyone to knowingly recruit, harbor, transport, provide or obtain through any means, any person for labor or services.
Penalties for Labor Trafficking
If you are convicted of a crime under Chapter 77 of Title 18, you will be fined and sentenced to prison for up to 20 years. However, if the offense included kidnapping, attempted kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse, attempted aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, then you will be fined and imprisoned for up to life, or both.
Federal Human Sex Trafficking Laws
Under statute 18 U.S. Code §1591, it is illegal for anyone to knowingly:
- Affect interstate or foreign commerce, or special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., by recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining by any means a person, or
- Benefiting, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participating in a venture which as engaged in an act described in paragraph (1), knowing that force, fraud, or coercion will be used to cause a person to engage in a commercial sex act, or that conduct will cause a person younger than 18 years old to be forced to engage in a commercial sex act.
Penalties for Sex Trafficking
A conviction for sex trafficking an individual under the age of 14 or sex trafficking any individual through the use of force, fraud, or coercion can result in imprisonment up to life. If you are convicted of sex trafficking an individual between the ages of 14 and 18, then you can be sentenced to prison for up to 40 years.
Collateral Consequences of a Human Trafficking Conviction
In addition to fines and a term of imprisonment for sex or labor trafficking, you will likely be required to make restitution to the victims. You might also face civil lawsuits from these victims, which can significantly increase the financial consequences of conviction.
A conviction for trafficking with cause you to have a permanent criminal record with a felony on it. When you are released from prison, this will make it extremely difficult to find an affordable place to live and employment. You may be unemployed for a considerable length of time, barred from certain professions entirely, and forced to accept a position far below your skill levels and desired income.
Defenses to Human Trafficking
The best defenses possible for a human trafficking charge will depend on your specific circumstances and the evidence prosecutors have against you. Many of the strongest defense strategies attack one or more of the elements outlined in the specific statute. It is the prosecutor’s duty to prove all of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt. However, an experienced federal attorney will find holes in the prosecutor’s argument and throw doubt upon one or more of these elements until a conviction would be inappropriate.
In some situations, you may be the victim of the situation yourself. It is not unheard of for prosecutors to bring trafficking charges against the victims of sex or labor schemes themselves. In this situation, affirmative defenses such as duress or fraud can be used to explain your actions.
Contact a Houston Human Trafficking Lawyer for Assistance
If you have been charged with human trafficking in the U.S., you need an experienced and skilled attorney who can offer you an aggressive defense strategy. A public defender will not be enough. By working with a private criminal defense lawyer, you have someone who has time to devote to your case.
Attorney Ned Barnett has been working within the courtroom for more than 30 years. He began his legal career as a state and federal prosecutor before focusing on criminal defense. Having experience on both sides of the courtroom enables Barnett to anticipate prosecutor’s arguments and next moves. He can use this to build you a strong defense under the law.