Human trafficking involves the deprivation of another person's freedom. These allegations are serious, and a conviction could have a devastating impact on your life. Building a strong defense against a human trafficking charge is essential, and it starts with hiring the right criminal defense attorney.
If you are facing human trafficking charges in the Los Angeles area, your choice of attorney can have a dramatic effect on your case. To discuss your options with a skilled Los Angeles defense attorney, reach out to attorney Vitaly Sigal as soon as possible.
Defining Human Trafficking in California
In California, human trafficking is governed by Penal Code 236.1. The statute is intentionally broad with three unique sections. Each of these sections applies to a different type of conduct. The prosecuting attorney needs only to prove one of the three prongs in order to convict you. You could be convicted for human trafficking if the prosecutor proves you:
- Deprived a person of their personal liberty with the intent to obtain forced labor or services (California Penal Code 236.1(a));
- Deprived a person of their personal liberty with the intent to violate California laws against pimping, extortion, blackmail, or child pornography, among other offenses (California Penal Code 236.1(b)); or
- Caused, induced, or persuaded a minor to engage in a commercial sexual transaction. (California Penal Code 236.1 (c))
A common thread in these charges is the deprivation of personal liberty. Under California law, a person is deprived of their liberty through a substantial and sustained restriction. This standard requires more than a brief deprivation or inconvenience. The deprivation must be ongoing and involve the use of meaningful force or fear. This could include threats of violence to the victim or someone they love.
In addition to threats or acts of violence, the deprivation of personal liberty could also materialize as duress. Any threat of hardship or retribution could qualify if it is serious and sustained.
Classification and Penalties
Every charge of human trafficking is treated as a felony under California state law. However, the penalties that come with a conviction vary depending on the section of the statute under which you are prosecuted.
California Penal Code 236.1(a)
A conviction under section 236.1(a) of the penal code carries substantial penalties. Under this section, the act of depriving another person of their liberty with the intent to obtain labor or services could see serious prison time. If convicted, you face either 5, 8, or 12 years in state prison. It also carries a potential fine of up to $500,000.
California Penal Code 236.1(b)
Violating section 236.1(b) of the penal code carries the steepest penalties of the three sections. If convicted, you face 8, 14, or 20 years in prison. Additionally, you also face a maximum fine of $500,000 and registration on the sex offender registry.
California Penal Code 236.1(c)
The penalties for a violation of section 236.1(c) are the same as section 236.1(a) in most cases. While those penalties are already steep, they can be enhanced under certain circumstances. If you are found to have used force, fraud, fear, or other forms of coercion during the commission of this offense, the penalties increase to between 15 years and life in prison.
Examples of Human Trafficking in California
Examples of when the human trafficking statute applies could be helpful in understanding the charges you face. Consider the following examples.
A homeowner hires an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper. After some time, they refuse to continue paying the housekeeper and demand she remains in her room within their home whenever she is not cleaning. The homeowner threatens to report her to immigration authorities if she does not comply. By restricting the housekeeper's ability to leave or earn a living through the use of threats, the homeowner could face charges of human trafficking.
In a similar fact pattern as above, a homeowner hires an immigrant here legally on a work visa as a housekeeper. After time passes, the homeowner confiscates the visa and all of the housekeeper's forms of identification. The homeowner refuses to return the visa, demanding the housekeeper to work for free. In this case, the homeowner would likely face human trafficking charges.
A pimp uses threats of physical violence against an underage prostitute working for him. He threatens to kill her and her family if she does continue working and hand over her earnings to him. The pimp could face a potential life sentence under Penal Code 236.1(c).
Common Defenses of Human Trafficking in California
There are several defenses that you could rely on in a human trafficking case. These defenses cannot be used in a vacuum, however, as the facts in your case will dictate what is possible. The right defense attorney could guide you in building the strongest defense possible.
One of the strongest defenses in these cases is actual innocence. If a prosecutor cannot prove every element of the crime, you must be acquitted regardless of the other facts in the case. One of the most common innocence defenses is based on the requirement of deprivation of the victim's liberty. If you did not give the alleged victim any reason to believe their liberty was restricted, you should not be found guilty.
False accusations are also common. Most of these cases do not occur out of thin air. Typically, the alleged victim has a prior work relationship with the person they are accusing. It could be possible you are facing these allegations out of retaliation.
Human trafficking cannot occur by accident. This means if you were not aware that an action you took restricted a person's liberty, it should not be considered as a criminal offense. These mistake-of-fact defenses can be challenging to prove but are often successful.
Speak with a Los Angeles Human Trafficking Defense Attorney
Human trafficking is one of the most serious crimes in the State of California, and it should not be taken lightly. If you are facing these charges in Los Angeles, it is crucial that you contact the Sigal Law Group as soon as possible.