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How Is Human Sex Trafficking Defined In California?

  • Published: June 1, 2020

Human sex trafficking consists of people who are involved in the sex trade, such as prostitution. A lot of these people go online to get women involved in prostitution. They are meeting them at different locations. Most of the women involved in sex trafficking are runaways.

As a result, the prosecutors are really looking at the individuals that they believe are exploiting teenagers to use them in the sex trade. Now, believe it or not, the women are complicit, and they agree with what is going on for some reason.

But that does not change the prosecutor’s perspective as far as prosecuting the human trafficking crimes across Los Angeles. I see a lot of these cases in Orange County, near Disneyland.

There are a lot of young people in that area, so the prosecution is hypersensitive in trying to make sure that they are protecting those young individuals who they feel are involved in human trafficking.

Human sex trafficking is basically the flow of prostitution by trading money for sex. There are many individuals, pimps, who are getting young women under the age of 18 involved in prostitution. Human trafficking laws in California are defined under Penal Code 236.1.

How Does It Enhance A Sex Trafficking Charge If  Victim Is A Minor?

If the alleged victim in a sex trafficking case is a minor, there are extra enhancements that can apply. Also, the penal code sections that are used to charge individuals with those crimes are much more stringent.

In these kinds, people get charged with pimping and pandering as it relates to these young people because they are getting involved in various ways, such as splitting the money for the women.

Sometimes, you have a classic pimp-prostitute relationship. In a pimp-prostitute situation, the pimp takes all the money and gives the women just enough money to survive. Or, the young lady stays with the pimp and performs sex on a daily basis, sometimes many times a day. Basically, she’s being abused by the pimp.

Other times, you have what I call a Romeo pimp. A Romeo pimp is much nicer and actually is splits the money with the women. However, that’s still pimping and pandering.

Anytime someone is performing prostitution while another person is involved by helping that person, either by facilitating rides, providing security, splitting the money, and/or setting up appointments, it is pimping and pandering.

Even if it’s not your classic pimp, who is usually sort of dangerous and violent to the person, if that person is underage and involved in sex trafficking, the prosecutors and police will arrest the person.

The pimp will be looking at a minimum of three years in prison. But, if the alleged victim is under the age of 18, they could be looking at much more time.

Federal Human Trafficking Charges

How does it change the charges or affect the charges if the human trafficking or sexual trafficking was allegedly part of a larger out-of-state operation?  Does that make it a federal case?

Anytime you are talking about criminal activity between states or internationally, it’s very likely that the federal government will get involved. The feds don’t have to prosecute the case if somebody is involved in pimping and pandering, prostitution, or human sex trafficking activity between states and cities.

The state government can prosecute that particular person if they choose. A lot of times, what I see is a multi-task force made up of state agents and federal agents. They’re depending on the scope of the scheme.

The prostitution or human-trafficking scheme going on from state-to-state will usually dictate whether the feds will be involved. If a case is sophisticated enough, if it involves the people and different states, it’s usually going to be a federal matter because the feds can deal much more easily in prosecuting a case like that.

But, if it’s just a small prostitution case, the state deals with it. It kind of depends on certain policy decisions when it comes to human trafficking. The feds and states work it out amongst themselves in deciding which case should be prosecuted at the state level and which to prosecute at the federal level.

What If the Alleged Victims are Not United States Citizens?

Could it help my defense in a human sex trafficking case if the alleged victims are not US citizens and may now qualify for Visas?

Many times, people who are involved in human trafficking, child pornography, or some other sex related offense internationally, figure that they are shielded from prosecution because they are dealing with people who are not US citizens.

However, The United States takes those types of activities very seriously, and they will prosecute people who are involved with exploiting anybody in the world. And this is definitely where the feds are going to get involved, not the state.

They will use the government’s resources to fly to different countries, and bring people into the United States to testify against those individuals involved in human trafficking or exploitation of women and children. In other words, the answer is absolutely.

The feds will prosecute a crime like that, and they don’t really see a difference between children being exploited in the United States or overseas. They will prosecute anybody that they have the ability to prosecute and anybody who they have evidence against. Of course, the federal government has a very wide reach and unlimited funds to prosecute people for these types of crimes.

Who Can Be An Accomplice In Human Sex Trafficking?

In situations where there are multiple people involved in a human sex trafficking scheme, the government, in order to capture everybody that they believe is involved, is going to use a conspiracy theory, which means that they are going to charge the persons with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

That allows them to capture each of the individual players, even though each player might not be doing every part of a particular crime. For example, if somebody is coordinating transportation to move prostitutes around, who are either of age or underage for purposes of sex trafficking, and the government can prove that, they will charge that person who is coordinating the transportation.

They will get everybody in the scheme. The issue is that everybody who gets arrested is going to make the argument, “Well, I didn’t know what was going on,” and, “I didn’t have any contact with women.” Or, “I didn’t get money, I didn’t deal with the johns, I didn’t deal with the prostitutes.”

Whatever the argument is, the issue for the government is going to be showing that they were part of a much bigger scheme, and a much bigger conspiracy in agreement with sex trafficking.

Sometimes, the feds get cooperators to give information about who’s involved in the conspiracy. Other times, they have tape recordings of the people talking to each other. Ans some other times, they have surveillance of the people being involved. They’ll also use the prostitutes as witnesses.

There’s a whole host of ways that they can prove that somebody is involved in a scheme. And, they will prosecute and arrest everybody who they believe is involved as part of a conspiracy versus just being involved in an activity in which they didn’t realize was illegal.

That’s where the battle lines will be drawn. In other words, did the person know? Or, should they have reasonably known, under the circumstances, that they were involved in a conspiracy that consists of sex acts, human trafficking, pimping and pandering? Or, can the government not prove it because the person has an innocent excuse for what they were doing?

What Are Penalties Under California State Law For Human Sex Trafficking?

In California, anyone who is caught for human sex trafficking will either be prosecuted at the federal or state level, depending on the activity specific to what they did. The penalties will depend on whether they were moving people in and out of the state or internationally.

If all of the activities were contained in one area, the state will most likely be the one to prosecute. But, the penalty at the state level is prison. At the federal level, it is federal prison served at 85% of the time.

It’s very difficult at any level to get probation when it comes to human trafficking. It’s usually a presumptive prison case, meaning they are going to try to send that person to prison.

They are going to try to make the person register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives, and they’ll put a bunch of other restrictions on them consistent with Megan’s Law.

In California, with the sex registration system that’s coming up, the feds will put a lifetime registration on that particular person. They’ll block them from going on computers. There are many restrictions that can be put on somebody who is charged and convicted of human trafficking in California or anywhere else in the United States.

Will I Have To Register As A Sex Offender If Convicted Of Human Trafficking?

Anybody convicted of human sex trafficking anywhere in the nation, including California, will have to register as a sex offender. It’s very difficult when it comes to sex crimes in general to find a sex crime that you can plead to that wouldn’t require you to register as a sex offender. There is a very short list.

I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and it’s very difficult to find an offense where somebody can plead to it and not have to register as a sex offender. And then, you have to convince the prosecutors to allow your client to plead to that offense.

Or, you’ll have to take the case to trial to try to get a not guilty verdict in order to block sex registration. But, when it comes to sex trafficking or human trafficking, anything to do with using women or underage girls for prostitution, it is mandatory to register as a sex offender for life.

Ron Hedding

Named Top Los Angeles DUI Defence Attorney by LA Times and named one of the
Top 100 DUI Defence attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers
Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.

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