California Penal Code 236.1 PC – Human Trafficking
California Penal Code 236.1 PC defines human trafficking as depriving somebody of their personal liberty with the intent to obtain forced labor or services from them, such as violating the laws on pimping and pandering, and child pornography.
It also includes the sexual exploitation of children or persuading or coercing minors to engage in commercial sex acts with the intent to violate the law. Simply put, while the term “human trafficking” encompasses a wide range of illegal conduct, it's often the unlawful trade of human beings against their will for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor.
The term “commercial sexual exploitation” means receiving something of value from the forced sexual behavior of another person by use of duress, fear, or threats of violence. Often, human trafficking involves a “pimp” who will have several prostitutes working under threats of force and will confiscate their earnings.
Penal Code 236.1(a) says, “A person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services is guilty of human trafficking and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for five, eight, or 12 years and a fine of not more than $500,000."
In 2012, California voters passed harsh human trafficking laws under Proposition 35, called the “Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act,” which expanded the definition to include child pornography distribution. This law also increased the penalties for human trafficking, including life in prison if it involves children. Further, a PC 236.1 conviction will require registration as a sex offender for life.
What is the Definition of Human Trafficking?
Under Penal Code 236.1 PC, the definition of human trafficking will always depend on the type of alleged conduct. For example, “deprivation or violation of the personal liberty of another” includes substantial and sustained restriction of someone's liberty accomplished through the following methods:
- Menace, or
- Threat of injury to the victim or another person, under circumstances where the person receiving the threat reasonably believes that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out.
“Forced labor or services” means labor or services performed or provided by someone are obtained or maintained through force, fraud, duress, coercion, or equivalent conduct that would reasonably overcome the person's will.
“Coercion” is a scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause someone to believe that failure to perform an act will result in serious harm to or restraint against them. It is abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process, debt bondage, or providing the possession of a controlled substance to someone to impair their judgment.
“Duress” is a direct or implied threat of force, violence, danger, hardship, or retribution sufficient to cause a reasonable person to perform an act they would not have submitted to or performed. It includes a threat to destroy, conceal, remove, confiscate, or possess an actual or proposed passport or immigration document of the victim.
“Serious harm” means any physical or nonphysical harm, including psychological, financial, or reputational harm that is serious under the circumstances that would compel a reasonable person to perform labor, services, or commercial sexual acts to avoid incurring that harm.
What is Human Trafficking for Sexual Purposes?
Penal Code 236.1(b) defines human trafficking for the purpose of child pornography, pimping, or extortion as “A person who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of Section 266, 266h, 266i, 266j, 267, 311.1, 311.2, 311.3, 311.4, 311.5, 311.6, or 518 is guilty of human trafficking and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 8, 14, or 20 years and a fine of not more than $500,000.”
This law defines depriving someone of their personal liberty with intent to commit specific California crimes, such as the following:
- Penal Code 266 PC – Enticing a minor into prostitution,
- Penal Code 266h and 266i PC – Pimping and pandering,
- Penal Code 266j PC – Procuring a child under 16 lewd or lascivious acts,
- Penal Code 267 PC – Abduction of someone under 18 for prostitution,
- Penal Code 311.1 PC – Transport or distributing of child pornography,
- Penal Code 311.3 PC – Developing or exchanging child pornography,
- Penal Code 311.4 PC – Employing minors for child pornography,
- Penal Code 311.5 PC – Advertising obscene material,
- Penal Code 311.6 PC – Producing obscene live performances,
- Penal Code 518 PC – Extortion or blackmail.
The totality of circumstances, including the victim's age, the relationship between the trafficker, and any handicap or disability of the victim, will be factors to consider in determining the deprivation or violation of someone's personal liberty, duress, or coercion.
What is Causing a Minor to Engage in Commercial Sex?
Penal Code 236.1(c) defines the crime causing a minor to engage in commercial sex acts as “A person who causes, induces, or persuades, or attempts to cause, induce, or persuade, a person who is a minor at the time of the commission of the offense to engage in a commercial sex act, with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of the laws.”
Notably, under this section, it does not require that you deprive someone of their personal liberty to be charged with human trafficking. You could face prosecution if you were mistaken about the victim's age.
Simply put, it's a felony crime to cause or persuade a minor to participate in commercial sex acts with the intent to commit the California crimes listed above.
What are the Penalties for Human Trafficking?
The penalties for Penal Code 236.1 PC human trafficking will depend on the specific statute that was violated. However, it's always a felony crime with the following penalties:
- Violations of Penal Code 236.1(a), depriving someone of their personal liberty with intent to obtain forced labor or services, carries five, eight, or 12 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
- Violations of Penal Code 236.1(b), depriving someone of their personal liberty with intent to commit pimping, pandering, child pornography, or extortion, carries eight, 14, or 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000. You will also be required to register for life as a three-tier sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC, which is California's Sex Offender Registration Act.
Suppose you inflicted a great bodily injury on the victim while committing a human trafficking offense. In that case, you could face an additional and consecutive prison term of five, seven, or ten years.
Suppose you have a prior conviction for violating PC 236.1. In that case, your prison sentence will enhanced by an additional and consecutive prison term of five years for each prior violation.
What Are the Penalties for the Sex Trafficking of Minors?
Violations of Penal Code 236.1(c), persuading a minor to participate in commercial sex acts, carries five, eight, or twelve years in state prison and a fine of up to $500,000 and lifetime sex offender registration.
Suppose you are convicted of using force, fear, fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or another person to commit this crime. In that case, the state prison sentence could increase to 15 years to life in state prison. Further, under PC 236.1(c), carries the following consequences:
- Mandatory tier-three lifetime sex offender registration.
- A “strike” under California's three strikes law.
- A prior conviction for a serious or violent felony means the human trafficking penalties will be doubled.
- Two prior convictions for a serious or violent felony means the human trafficking penalty is 25 years to life in prison.
- Under Proposition 35, the court could order an additional fine of up to $1,000,000 depending on the severity of the human trafficking offense.
What are the Related Offenses for Human Trafficking?
California has several laws that are related to Penal Code 236.1 PC human trafficking, meaning you could be charged with more than just trafficking but also with one of the crimes listed below.
Penal Code 311.11 – Child Pornography
Child porn crimes are often related to human trafficking when a minor's liberty has been deprived to violate one of the many child pornography laws. For example:
- Penal Code 311.1 prohibits transporting or distributing child porn.
- Penal Code 311.3 prohibits developing or exchanging child porn.
- Penal Code 311.4 makes it a crime to employ minors to participate in child pornography.
Penal Code 236 PC – False Imprisonment
California Penal Code 236 PC defines false imprisonment as unlawfully restraining, detaining, or confining someone against their will. This offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony and is punishable by up to three years in jail.
Penal Code 207 – Kidnapping
California Penal Code 207 PC kidnapping is defined as moving someone a substantial distance without their consent by use of force or fear.
While kidnapping is related to human trafficking, it requires the use of force to detain the victim. Kidnapping is a felony crime that carries three, five, or eight years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Penal Code 518 – Extortion
California Penal Code 518 PC extortion is sometimes charged along with PC 236.1 human trafficking if you deprive someone of their liberty with the intent to commit extortion.
Extortion is defined as using force or threats to compel somebody to give you money or other property or using force or threats to compel a public officer to perform an official act. Extortion is a felony that carries two, three, or four years in jail.
Penal Code 315 – Keeping a House of Prostitution
California Penal Code 315 PC makes it a crime to live in or maintain a brothel, massage parlor, motel, or private residence for prostitution. This misdemeanor crime carries up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Penal Code 186.22 – Street Gang Sentencing Enhancement
PC 236.1 human trafficking charges could be enhanced under California Penal Code 186.22 PC gang enhancement law. This means if human trafficking is committed for the benefit of or in association with a criminal street gang, the additional penalties include two, three, or four years in state prison.
What are the Defenses for PC 236.1 Human Trafficking?
Our California sex crime attorneys can use different strategies to challenge human trafficking charges under Penal Code 236.1, as discussed below. The two most common include the following:
- You did not deprive the alleged victim of their liberty,
- You are the victim of a false accusation.
To convict, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you deprived the victim of their liberty. Perhaps we can argue the alleged victim was a willing participant, and there was no deprivation of their freedom. For example, pimping does not always mean a prostitute had their freedom violated; instead, often, they choose on their own.
Sometimes, we might be able to argue that you are the victim of false accusations. Perhaps the accuser is motivated to make false claims, such as anger, jealousy, or revenge.
In some cases, we might be able to negotiate for a lesser offense. Perhaps we can persuade the prosecutor not to file formal criminal charges, called a “DA reject.” Contact us for more information. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.
- Will I Go to Jail if Charged with Human Trafficking?
- Human Trafficking Charges in Los Angeles
- Human Trafficking Charges in Orange County
- Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (Prop 35)
- California Penal Code 236.1 PC
- California Penal Code 311.4 PC
- CALCRIM No. 1243. Human Trafficking
- CALCRIM No. 1244. Minor in Commercial Sex Act
- People v. Oliver, Cal. App. 4th Dist.(2020)