Human trafficking is an unfortunate and terrible situation that occurs across the world today. One of the results of human trafficking is often forced criminality. This occurs when victims of human trafficking are coerced into—or forced—to commit crimes.
Laws in California and other states seek to provide some protections for those who were forced into criminal actions as a result of human trafficking. This short guide introduces some of those potential protections, but it’s important to note that this is a complex area of the law. If you are facing criminal charges or have been convicted of a crime that you committed as a coerced victim of human trafficking, reach out to an experienced criminal law attorney to get help with your case.
What Types of Crimes are Human Trafficking Victims Coerced Into?
Human traffickers may use a variety of coercion strategies to force victims into committing crimes. They might use threats of violence or personal harm against the victim. They might also threaten the victim’s friends or loved ones, especially if those individuals are also victims of human trafficking. In some cases, traffickers may withhold necessities such as food or water unless the victim does what they want. They might also create a situation that involves addiction and withhold drugs unless the victim goes through with criminal activity.
Some types of crimes that human trafficking victims might be coerced into include:
- Making or transporting drugs or other drug crimes
- Sex crimes including prostitution
Some of this may sound extreme, but organized crime groups across the globe have been known to coerce victims—including teenagers or even children—into supporting assassination and murder plots. It can happen, and it is believable in some cases that even extreme crimes were committed under coercion.
What Does California Do to Protect Human Trafficking Victims Who Are Coerced Into Committing Crimes?
Laws in many states recognize that human trafficking victims are put into a very specific situation that must be considered in evaluating and punishing criminal activity. As such, there are laws in many states, including California, that provide some protections for such victims. California includes laws for immunity and diversion, an affirmative defense, and vacating convictions.
Immunity and Diversion
Immunity occurs when someone is considered immune to prosecution for potential charges. In California, it’s possible for human trafficking victims to be given immunity for crimes they were coerced into. This may be done as part of a deal that involves the human trafficking victim providing testimony or information that helps with a criminal case, but it isn’t always necessary.
Diversion occurs when someone is removed from the criminal justice process to be placed in a more appropriate rehabilitative process. For example, if a human trafficking victim committed drug crimes in part because they were forced into addiction by their captors, they might be diverted into addiction recovery instead of tried and sentenced to prison.
California is one of more than 30 states with state human trafficking laws that allow for an affirmative defense. This defense occurs when a trafficking victim is able to demonstrate that they were forced to commit a crime by traffickers. This means the victim’s criminal liability for the actions are negated even if the prosecution can show without a doubt that the victim did commit the crime.
Note that affirmative defense isn’t possible for all types of crimes and charges. To understand whether affirmative defense is an option in California for specific charges against you, speak to a criminal defense attorney.
In California, there are provisions that allow some convictions for victims of human trafficking to be vacated. For a vacated conviction, there must first be a conviction. That means you pled guilty or went through the criminal justice system and received a guilty verdict. The court sets these pleas or verdicts aside, however, and dismisses the charges when it vacates the conviction.
The benefit of vacating convictions is that it removes the conviction from your record, making it easier to obtain a job, get housing, or otherwise live a life free of a criminal record.
Again, the rules about which convictions can be vacated are specific, so it’s important to consult with a criminal law attorney if you are the victim of human trafficking and are dealing with a criminal conviction.
Get Help as Soon as You Can for Criminal Matters
Human trafficking does happen, and it happens in the United States. In fact, California is often deemed to be one of the states with the largest amount of human trafficking. If you are a survivor of human trafficking and facing criminal charges, your fight is not yet over. Know that you don’t have to face this next battle alone.
Reach out to a criminal law attorney as soon as possible to start working on your defense. As a victim of human trafficking, you have options that are not available to other defendants, and it’s important to know what they are so you can exercise them.
Contact The Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson to speak confidentially with our team to discuss your case. We work to ensure you know all your rights and options and provide you the best chance at a positive outcome in your case.