Tampa Human Trafficking Defense Attorney
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Human trafficking is a criminal offense taken seriously by federal authorities. These cases are handled by federal investigators, which means that federal criminal charges could be imminent if an investigation produces sufficient evidence to motivate an arrest. Because Tampa, Florida, is a hotspot for this criminal activity due to its large tourism industry and frequent arrivals of international travelers and immigrants, law enforcement agencies focus considerable energy on human trafficking investigations. Those under the scrutiny of law enforcement should become informed about their legal rights immediately. A human trafficking defense lawyer in Tampa like David Joffe, P.A. can provide guidance essential for defending someone’s freedom, property, and reputation.
Legal definitions of human trafficking
In 2000, the federal government enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The act formally refers to the crime as trafficking in persons and defines it as either forcing people to provide sexual acts or perform other types of labor against their will.
Sex trafficking often comes to mind most often when people think about human trafficking. This criminal offense encompasses everything necessary to recruit, harbor, transport, provision, obtain, patronize or solicit people so that their bodies may be sold for commercial sex acts. Force, fraud or other coercive acts must be applied to the people to make them submit to the trafficking unless they are under the age of 18.
Numerous arrests are probable
Because so many activities are necessary to lure, transport, and house victims of sex trafficking, various people along the way may become unwittingly involved. For example, a landlord may not know that a rental home is used to house people forced into prostitution. Similarly, a business owner may not know that company vehicles were used by an employee or outside party to transport victims. Still, people who meant no ill will toward anyone can appear guilty in the eyes of law enforcement and require the services of a Tampa human trafficking defense attorney to protect their interests.
Mass arrests at the conclusion of human trafficking investigations are a common occurrence. In April 2021, the Tampa Bay ABC news station reported that 79 people were arrested in Hillsborough County. Undercover detectives identified suspects through Internet chats, hotel investigations, and talking to suspected street-level prostitutes.
Labor trafficking involves much of the same processes as sex trafficking. The victims are forced to work in sweatshops, homes, farms or restaurants against their will. They may be kept (literally) as slaves in cramped housing and no freedom of movement. Others are held in place because they are told that they must work off the debts associated with transporting them to the country.
Don't incriminate yourself. Speak with a human trafficking defense attorney near you.
Are human trafficking victims always undocumented?
No. Although many trafficked people come from outside the country, U.S. citizens sometimes are lured into trafficking operations, especially for sex work. They may be tricked into traveling with someone after being promised work as a model or dancer. However, those from outside the country frequently form the ranks of human trafficking victims due to their willingness to take risks to enter the United States. Traffickers will arrange for their travel but then impose on them debts for the cost and seize their identification. This effectively traps them because they have no money or means of leaving their captors.
Associated criminal acts
Trafficking in persons is a complex act that can snowball into multiple federal criminal charges, including:
- enticing someone to board a vessel with the intention of holding the person as a slave
- kidnapping a person for the purpose of slavery
- knowingly transporting a person for the purpose of slavery
- selling a person into involuntary servitude
- destroying or hiding a person’s passport or other identification so that travel and escape are impossible
- profiting from trafficking, peonage, or slavery
Due to the number of offenses associated with human trafficking, investigators will look for the people who helped move victims along the way and profited from their forced labor. For example, a restaurant owner who gets the free labor of a dishwasher profits from the trafficking victim even if the restaurant owner committed no other acts related to the trafficking.
Federal penalties for sex or labor trafficking
Federal law calls for fines and a maximum of 20 years in prison when a person is convicted of human trafficking in Tampa. Aggravating factors, such as sexual abuse and kidnapping, open the door to a possible life sentence. Trafficking in children also could result in a life sentence. At a minimum, a conviction results in a 10-year prison sentence in cases involving minors. Asset forfeiture and payment of restitution to victims are also possible, making it imperative to have an experienced Tampa human trafficking attorney on your side from the start.
Defense strategies for human trafficking charges
According to the U.S. Department of State, the crime of forced labor has three essential elements:
- Acts – How a trafficker recruited, held, transported, and provisioned someone for forced labor.
- Means – How a trafficker forced, misled, or coerced someone into performing forced labor.
- Purpose – What a trafficker wanted the forced laborers for.
Because conviction on any criminal charge requires supplying evidence that meets the definition of a crime, a federal defense attorney in Tampa works to minimize evidence by casting doubt on its accuracy or sufficiency.
Should a case go to trial, a sex trafficking defense lawyer may succeed at undermining a prosecutor’s interpretation of the evidence. A jury could then decide to acquit. Realistically, however, most cases involve getting charges dropped or plea bargaining. Casting doubt on evidence definitely plays a role in this because the defense lawyer will work to reduce a prosecutor’s confidence in winning a conviction on the most serious charges.
This strategy worked in August 2021 for a Tampa man who pled guilty to the first-degree misdemeanor of renting space for prostitution as reported by the local ABC affiliate. Authorities accused him of coercing a woman to travel from Nebraska to Florida, but defense counsel argued successfully that the messages between the defendant and the woman did not indicate force, fraud or coercion.
Hire a federal attorney near you
Any allegations against a person concerning human trafficking can cause serious reputational damage. The best time for legal support is prior to an arrest. The advice of a Tampa human trafficking defense lawyer like David Joffe can shield you from aggressive questioning. Whether you have been contacted by investigators or already arrested, Joffe Law, P.A. knows how to navigate this very serious situation. Contact us right away for a confidential consultation and learn your best options moving forward.