CA Penal Code 236.1: Human Trafficking

California Penal Code Section 236.1 lays out California’s prohibition on the practice of human trafficking. Human trafficking is broadly defined as depriving the personal liberty of another person for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. The California legislature specifically defines human trafficking to be equivalent to the federal definition of “severe” trafficking under federal criminal laws. Human trafficking also includes any solicitation of commercial sex with a minor.

The law is intended to punish human trafficking in connection with the commercial sex trade, such as forced prostitution, as well as forced labor in sweatshops and other places. While the practice has long been illegal, California voters passed a more strict human trafficking law in 2012 known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act (CASE Act). Human trafficking is one of California’s most serious crimes and, at the most extreme, is punishable by life in prison.

Effects of the CASE Act

The 2012 CASE Act broadened the definition of human trafficking and made the punishments more severe. The Act was specifically aimed at stopping the exploitation of children in the commercial sex trades, including child pornography. Under the new law, any commercial sexual act with a child or attempt to solicit commercial sexual services with a child constitutes human trafficking, regardless of whether force was involved. Human traffickers are now required to register as sex offenders. The CASE Act also altered the evidentiary rules in cases of human trafficking to prevent the use of a victim’s sexual history to impeach their testimony or to prove the victim’s own criminal liability.

Penalties for Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is an incredibly severe offense, and the punishments reflect California’s commitment to end the practice. The base-level offense is punishable by 5, 8, or 12 years in state prison, along with a fine of up to $500,000, regardless of whether the victim was an adult or a minor at the time of the offense. Depending on the nature of the victim and the manner in which the crime was committed, the available punishment may be even more severe.

If the offense was committed with the intent to violate California’s prohibition on the distribution of child pornography, California’s pimping and pandering laws, the laws against extortion and blackmail, or certain other laws regarding the sexual exploitation of children, then the punishment is more severe. A defendant found guilty is subject to 8, 14, or 20 years imprisonment, in addition to the $500,000 fine.

If the victim was a minor, including the act of persuading a minor to engage in a commercial sexual act, the defendant faces 5 to 12 years in prison. If the offense against a minor was committed via the use of force, fear, fraud, violence, or threat of violence, the punishment is 15 years to life in prison.

If the crime was committed in connection with commercial sex, then the defendant must register as a sex offender for life.

Defenses to Human Trafficking

While human trafficking is a very serious crime, there are many instances in which a person may be accused of human trafficking when they either committed no crime or instead committed a much less serious offense. A knowledgeable California criminal defense attorney can help ensure that prosecutors do not railroad a defendant through the system with the most serious charge available when a lesser charge is more appropriate for the offense.

Defenses that may be available in a case of human trafficking include:

  • The defendant was falsely accused;
  • The defendant did not actually deprive the victim of his or her liberty (i.e., the victim was free to go); OR
  • The defendant made a mistake of fact that negates an element of the crime.

The law does specify that the defendant’s mistake as to the age of a victim of human trafficking is not a defense. If the victim was a minor, the defendant is subject to the same penalties regardless of whether the defendant believed the victim was an adult. For example, if the defendant solicits the services of an underage prostitute, that defendant can face 5 to 12 years in prison, even if they believed the prostitute was an adult.

The Law Offices of John D. Lueck is a trusted Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense law firm with more than 42 years of service to clients in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties. These cases are highly sensitive and require experienced representation to ensure your rights are protected. If you or someone you know has been arrested for a crime, contact Rancho Cucamonga criminal defense lawyer John D. Lueck for a free consultation.


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