What Are the Penalties for Human Trafficking

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Human trafficking involves the threat or use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain commercial sex acts, labor or other services from an unwilling or underage participant. Victims are often young people who fall into labor and sex trafficking to escape the streets after running away from home and family troubles. They may be facing homelessness, financial insecurity, or addiction issues, which make them vulnerable. In other cases, an adult may agree to work for an opportunity to come to the United States or because a romantic partner introduces them to commercial sex. 

Used interchangeably to describe both labor and sex trafficking, human trafficking is criminalized at the state and federal levels. Trafficking itself is penalized by the states, but federal laws also make it a crime to conduct the activities of a trafficking enterprise under the premise that trafficking often involves interstate and foreign commerce, which is governed by the federal government.

Both labor trafficking and sex trafficking carry similar punishments if convicted, including up to life imprisonment under certain circumstances. If you’ve been wrongly accused of a trafficking-related offense, contact the attorneys at Berry Law. They can explain the laws governing human trafficking in the state of Nebraska and formulate a strategy for dealing with the charges you’re facing.

How Has Recent Legislation in Nebraska Changed Human Trafficking Charges in the State?

In 2019, Nebraska passed legislation that did away with the statute of limitations for child victims of trafficking, giving them an indefinite timeframe to come forward with allegations. The same legislation extended the statute of limitations for adult victims from three years to seven years and created additional laws that allow law enforcement to apply for warrants to wiretap the phones of trafficking suspects. This was done to more easily identify traffickers, buyers, and other potential victims.

What Are the Penalties for Human Trafficking?

Along with hefty fines and lengthy prison sentences, individuals convicted of human trafficking may be required to forfeit property and assets that were obtained while participating in trafficking-related offenses. Even attempting or conspiring to participate in human trafficking activities is subject to the penalties outlined by state and federal penal codes.

Under Nebraska state law, human trafficking is a Class II felony, punishable by a mandatory minimum of one year in prison with the possibility of up to 50 years. Trafficking a minor carries more serious consequences and is classified accordingly as a Class IB felony.

Any individual who has knowingly benefitted or participated in trafficking a victim or who has knowingly played any role in the trafficking of another person can face a Class IIA felony and up to 20 years imprisonment.

Labor Trafficking

Nebraska Revised Statute 28-830 specifically addresses labor trafficking in the state of Nebraska as knowingly recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining by any means or attempting to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, or obtain by any means a person 18 years of age or older intending or knowing that the person will be subjected to forced labor or services.

Under these provisions, a person who hired a trafficker to provide them with domestic labor can also be charged and held criminally responsible for labor trafficking. Arguing consent or showing that the alleged victim entered into an agreement for the exchange of labor can be used as a defense if he or she is over the age of 18. Consent of the victim is not a defense against trafficking charges when the victim is a minor.

At the federal level, it’s a crime to knowingly obtain the labor or services of another person by actual or threatened force or physical restraint, actual or threatened serious harm, including making threats toward a third party, actual or threatened abuse of law or legal process, or a scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that he or she would suffer serious harm or physical restraint if the victim did not perform these services. This could include the threat of living in squalid conditions, isolation from others, or the threat of law enforcement or immigration agency involvement, and possible violence.

It is also a crime to knowingly destroy, conceal, remove, confiscate, or possess another person’s government-issued documents, including identification, immigration papers, passports, or any other documentation intended to restrict their freedom by preventing them from moving or traveling in order to maintain their labor or services for trafficking purposes.

Labor trafficking is sometimes connected to the smuggling of non-U.S. nationals into the country for the purpose of exploiting their labor or their bodies. Federal law prohibits slavery, forced labor, involuntary servitude, or peonage of another person. Peonage involves holding or placing a person into involuntary servitude based on real or alleged debts.

These laws apply to employers who promise to transfer or sponsor a person’s visa, forcing them to work for less than they were owed by threatening to revoke their sponsorship. Federal penalties for labor trafficking can include a fine and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years and sometimes life in cases involving aggravated circumstances.

Sex Trafficking Explained

Federal sex trafficking offenses like prostitution, the trafficking of children, and the coercion of individuals into prostitution focus on the transportation of persons across state lines or international boundaries. It’s a federal offense to knowingly persuade, induce, entice, or coerce an individual to travel to engage in prostitution or other criminal sex acts and is punishable by a fine and up to 20 years in prison. 

Sex trafficking charges often occur alongside offenses that involve the sexual exploitation of minor children that crosses state lines. Transporting a person under 18 in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of engaging in prostitution or other criminal sex acts is a criminal violation that carries a penalty of a fine and/or minimum 10-year-prison sentence.

The Mann Act is a federal law that outlaws the use of interstate communication to coerce or engage someone into prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity, including minors. Convictions for sex trafficking of a minor don’t require the child to have actually engaged in a sexual act. For example, the distribution of photos of a nude minor for commercial gain or other forms of child pornography that crosses state lines is a felony offense. A defendant who uses federal mail service or other means, such as electronic communication, to persuade, induce, or coerce a person under 18 to engage in prostitution or other sex acts may face fines and/or a minimum sentence of at least 10 years and up to life behind bars.

Harsher penalties apply when force, fraud, or coercion are used against a sex trafficking victim younger than 18 or when the offense involves a minor less than 14 years of age, regardless of whether force or coercion was used. Both the purchasers and the providers of commercial sex acts or sexually explicit material can be held criminally liable for their participation.

Nebraska uses slightly different language when defining sex trafficking as compared to labor trafficking due to the sexual nature of the offense. Nebraska Revised Statute 28-318 makes recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, soliciting, or obtaining by any means or knowingly attempting to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, solicit, or obtain by any means a person 18 years of age or older for the purpose of having that person engage without their consent in commercial sexual activity, sexually explicit performance, or the production of pornography. Separate provisions apply for the sex trafficking of a minor.

Nebraska penal codes apply the same penalties for sex trafficking charges as for labor trafficking charges, with sex trafficking a Class II felony and sex trafficking of a minor a Class IB felony.  

What Are Some Defenses Against Trafficking Charges?

In human trafficking cases, it falls on the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant in the case knowingly participated and attempted to further the crime of trafficking. If the person being charged was unaware of his or her role in furthering the trafficking crime, then there may not be a case at all and charges could be dropped. Not knowing about his or her involvement can serve as a possible defense for the accused.

In order to charge someone with trafficking an individual or individuals over 18, it must be established that the alleged victim or victims acted as a result of force, fraud, or coercion and not of their own free will. Consent may be a defense in situations where the accuser is older than 18. However, the use of fraud or coercion is not necessary in cases where the victim is a minor, and therefore not a defense.

Reach out to the knowledgeable criminal defense team at Berry Law. They can explain your rights and defend your interests against human trafficking charges.

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