Human trafficking is viewed by lawmakers, prosecutors and law enforcement as a form of slave-trade. It’s defined as the illegal trade or sale of human beings for the commercial purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates there are 27 million people enslaved across the globe, and the Florida ranks No. 3 in the U.S. for the number of calls received by the center’s human trafficking hotline.
The Florida Attorney General’s Office has vowed to make this a “Zero Tolerance” state through varied approaches that include partnerships with first responder agencies, health care organizations, local businesses and advocacy groups.
There are also exceedingly harsh punishments for those convicted of human trafficking, with legislators just recently beefing up the penalties.
At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys understand that a conviction on human trafficking charges in Florida will undoubtedly result in extensive prison time and other sanctions.
Human trafficking in the U.S. most often involves forced sexual exploitation of women and children. Alleged victims usually include:
- Runaway teens
- Homeless individuals
- Drug addicts
- Abused/ neglected children
Recent changes to the law, effective July 1, 2012, called for:
- Increasing the designation of human smuggling from a first-degree misdemeanor (which carries a maximum 1-year jail term) to a third-degree felony (which carries a maximum 5-year prison sentence).
- Labeling persons convicted of human sex trafficking as sexual offenders and sexual predators, which results in long-term tracking and registration requirements post-prison release.
- Allowing any property used in a human trafficking operation to be subject to civil forfeiture.
- Requiring massage parlor operators and workers to show valid photo ID upon request from law enforcement.
That is in addition to the other penalties, as set forth in F.S. 787.06 . In some cases, convicted offenders can be sentenced to life in prison.Proving a Human Trafficking Case
In order for prosecutors to prove a person is guilty of human trafficking, they must show the defendant:
- Attempted to engage or did participate in transporting, harboring, recruiting, soliciting, obtaining or providing a human being for transport;
- Had the intention and knowledge the transported person was going to be subjected to forced labor or sexual exploitation, such as prostitution.
- Gained financially or were in some way compensated with something of value by participation in an endeavor that subjected a human being to forced services or labor.
We have seen a fair number of cases in which innocent parties became ensnared in human trafficking investigations. For example, a taxi service might transport an adult and teenager absent any knowledge the adult is actually trafficking the teen. There is certainly a strong defense that could be made in such cases. However, speaking with police absent the advice of legal defense counsel could result in serious headaches for the driver and business.
These are known as “fringe players,” and in some circumstances, they have been charged with crimes as equal participants.
That’s why it’s so important to seek legal advice early on, even if you know you did nothing intentionally wrong.Penalties for Human Trafficking
Human smuggling, as we mentioned earlier, is now a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. It used to be a first-degree misdemeanor.
Meanwhile, human trafficking for labor or services or commercial sexual activity is designated a first-degree felony under Florida law.
A human trafficking conviction will result in a minimum mandatory sentence of 21 months (just under two years) in prison. The judge may also impose:
- Maximum 30 years in prison.
- Maximum 30 years of probation.
- Maximum $10,000 in fines.
When the alleged victim in a human trafficking case is a child or “mentally defective” individual and the purpose of the operation was commercial sexual activity, the stakes are even higher. There is a mandatory 66-month prison term (just over five years). The judge also has discretion to impose any combination of the following:
- Maximum life in prison.
- Maximum life on probation.
- Maximum $10,000 in fines.
No matter how heinous the allegations, remember: You have a constitutional right to legal representation. In fact, you need a lawyer capable of handling the complex legal issues involved because state law grants jurisdiction for these offenses to the Statewide Prosecutor’s Office and the Statewide Grand Jury.
It could be argued in some cases the victim was a willing participant. Thus, prostitution charges would apply, rather than human trafficking charges. Prostitution is still a serious offense, but the penalties aren’t nearly as severe as those for human trafficking.
Also, it’s important to point out a substantial number of human trafficking cases involve other criminal charges, like fraud, forgery, conspiracy and coercion. Plus, it’s not uncommon for defendants to face both state and federal charges because many cases involve actions that allegedly took place in Florida and also across state lines.
If you have been arrested on human trafficking charges in Florida, call a lawyer before speaking to law enforcement.
Contact the experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm by calling (954) 761-4011 or toll-free at (877)-ARREST-0 (277-3780).