April 18, 2014 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
As experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys, we are seeing an increase in the prosecution of human trafficking cases under California Penal Code 236.1. This is not entirely surprising. After all, Los Angeles is an international city with major shipping ports and an enormous airport. But more importantly, in 2012 Californians voted overwhelmingly in favor of increasing the punishments for human trafficking related cases. Human trafficking has become a top priority on both the federal and state level.
The language of Penal Code Section 236.1 is very broad. If the prosecution can prove that an alleged victim’s personal liberty was deprived or violated for the purpose to “obtain forced labor or other services”, that could be enough to sustain a human trafficking conviction. A conviction that carries a mandatory state prison sentence of at least 5 years and can go as high 12 years. If the alleged violation involves trafficking for the purposes of pimping, pandering or child pornography, the sentence ranges from 8, 14, or 20 years. If there’s an allegation of force, fear, violence, coercion or duress, the penalty can be 15 years to life.
Although the language of PC 236.1 has been around for awhile, with the recent increase in punishment, prosecutors are beginning to allege human trafficking in cases that we have not before seen.
One example is in pimping and pandering cases. It appears that many local law enforcement agencies across California are using an expansive definition of what it means to violate a person’s liberty for the purposes of obtaining “forced labor or other services.” Cases in which there is scant evidence of any actual pimping conduct whatsoever, such as agreeing to put up online ads or assisting in marketing for services for escorts who are eventually arrested for prostitution, are now being charged with human trafficking.
We are also seeing an increase in human trafficking prosecutions for people who sponsor the travel of foreign nationals who are subsequently arrested for prostitution. And of course, there’s the widely publicized cases of wealthy families from other countries accused of bringing domestic workers with them and forcing them to work for no pay.
Nobody doubts that human trafficking is a real issue, but it is just as important to make sure that the statute is not expanded into areas which nobody intended. This is why if you or a loved one are accused of human trafficking in an Los Angeles or any California state or federal court, to immediately contact a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney. You can call The Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg at (323) 633-3423 or by using this confidential contact form.