The Department of Homeland Security provides that human trafficking involves the use of fraud, coercion, or force to obtain some form of labor from another individual. This definition may include nonconsensual commercial sex acts.
Every year, approximately 50,000 individuals are tricked, abducted, or forced from their homes in other countries into labor or prostitution in the United States. One example that commonly occurs is when an ad is placed in another country that promises modeling work in the United States for several thousand dollars.
Individuals who respond to this scam may be forced into nonconsensual prostitution or farm labor for the remainder of their lives. A trafficking victim may face extreme physical harm and even death if they do not comply with the demands of the trafficker.
A victim of forced labor in the U.S. may be a citizen or may come from another region of the world, regardless of whether they entered the United States with or without legal status. Traffickers will frequently target vulnerable populations, which include:
- Individuals without lawful immigration status;
- Individuals who have incurred recruitment debts; and
- Those who are:
- impoverished; or
Trafficking or forced labor victims will rarely come forward or seek help to escape their situation because:
- The individual may not be able to escape their physical environment;
- The individual is too vulnerable to seek assistance, for example, if they are a child;
- Potential language barriers may exist; or
- The individual does not self-recognize as a victim of human trafficking.
Law enforcement in the United States has uncovered forced labor in many industries, including. but not limited to:
- Illicit massage businesses;
- Domestic work;
- Agriculture; and
- Factory work.
Specific examples of when forced labor appears often include:
- Door-to-door sales crews;
- Bars and restaurants;
- Peddling and begging;
- Health and beauty services;
- Hospitality; and
- Commercial cleaning services.
Is Trafficking a Crime in Washington State?
Yes, trafficking is a crime in the State of Washington. This state has some of the most stringent laws in the United States.
In Washington State, it is a serious felony to recruit, harbor, transport or obtain any individual for labor or services using:
- Fraud; or
This includes sex trafficking and other types of forced labor, including domestic servitude and sweatshop work. It is important to note that, in many cases, the victims of human trafficking are not recognized as such and, instead, may be seen as victims of other crimes, such as domestic violence and sexual assault.
Why was I Charged with Trafficking in the First Degree in Washington State?
There are different ways in which an individual may be charged with first degree trafficking in Washington State. The prosecution must show that the defendant coerced or forced another individual into a situation where they are required to perform acts against their will for the profit of others.
This offense may include:
- Involuntary servitude;
- Forced labor; or
- Taking an individual to illegally harvest and sell their organs.
One of the most common ways a defendant can be convicted of trafficking is if they do any of the following to force them to engage in sex acts using fraud or coercion:
- Harboring; or
What is the Punishment for Trafficking in the First Degree?
Trafficking in the first degree in Washington State is classified as a Class A felony. A defendant convicted of trafficking in the first degree may face:
- Life in prison;
- Criminal fines of up to $50,000; or
- A combination of both.
What is the Definition of a Felony?
A felony, in general, is any criminal offense that results in a prison sentence of one year or more. These offenses typically involve an element of violence and are considered dangerous or harmful to society.
Felony crimes also include some of the most serious types of crimes that an individual can commit, for example, first-degree murder and arson. If a crime does not reach the level of a felony, it will typically fall into one of the other two categories of crimes, misdemeanors or citations.
What Factors Influence Felony Sentencing?
There are many factors that may influence the sentence a defendant receives if they are convicted of a felony. These factors may influence a court to impose more lenient sentences or harsher sentences.
For example, a court may be more lenient when issuing a punishment for a first-time offender, especially if the felony was a non-violent crime. On the other hand, a court will typically not reduce an individual’s sentence if the defendant is a repeat offender and the offense resulted in serious harm to another individual.
A defendant’s sentence may also be reduced if they raise a successful defense. For example, if a defendant is charged with felony assault but the victim knowingly consented to the act, then the defendant may be able to assert consent as a defense and, potentially, get their sentence reduced.
The laws of a particular state and the type of criminal offense that was committed may also affect the sentence a defendant receives. For example, there are crimes that are classified as wobblers, which can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors.
Whether the offense is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor will depend on whether specific factors were present during the commission of the crime. For example, if no aggravating factors exist, such as the use of a deadly weapon, type of victim, etc., then the defendant may argue that their sentence should be similar to those that apply to misdemeanors.
What is a Felon?
A felon is an individual who has been charged with and convicted of a felony offense. This usually means that the individual received a prison sentence of over one year and possibly longer.
The legal penalties for a felony conviction can be severe. It is also important to note that many individuals do not consider the long-lasting impact that a felony conviction may have on the defendant’s life, even after they have completed serving their sentence.
In general, a felony conviction will remain on a defendant’s criminal record for the rest of their lives. Having a felony on their criminal record can result in an individual having issues with:
- Finding a job;
- Obtaining or keeping custody rights over their children; and
- Having the right to vote in elections.
In addition, if a convicted felon is charged and convicted of any additional crimes in the future, the punishment will most likely be more severe than the previous crime, possibly including longer prison sentence and higher criminal fines. It is also important to note that, in some states, there are habitual offender or three strikes laws that can increase a defendant’s punishment even further if they are convicted of additional offenses.
Should I Obtain a Lawyer to Help Me?
If you have been charged with human trafficking in Washington State, it is essential to consult with a Washington criminal lawyer as soon as possible. As discussed above, a conviction of this offense can result in severe punishments and consequences for many years and even in other areas of your life.
Your attorney can review your case, determine if any defenses are available to you, and appear in court with you. In some cases, your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecution for a plea bargain or a reduction in the charges against you.