Prosecuting human trafficking offenses in Michigan --Topic of Michigan State University College of Law Lecture

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By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

Prosecuting human trafficking offenses in Michigan was the topic of the recent symposium at Michigan State University College of Law. In the year 2000, the Federal Government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Michigan's Anti-trafficking statute was enacted in August 2006.

The legislation, explained Sarah Warpinski, chair of the Modern Abolitionist Legal Society, one of the sponsors of the event, established a three-prong approach to prosecution covering prevention, prosecution and protection. "Today we are focusing on prosecution within our state and highlighting some issues of protection or advocating for victims' rights."

While Federal human trafficking crimes include forced labor, alien smuggling, adult and child prostitution, explained Kevin Mulcahy, Assistant U.S. Attorney, "our office in Detroit focuses on child prostitution cases as they relate to human trafficking."

"Adult prostitution and child prostitution go hand in hand. The pimps use both. We have done about 15 of these in our office. Pimping is a nasty business and these men are ruthless and are criminals. And prostitution is not harmless."

He mentioned organizations, led by pimps named Kaydoe, Detroit Slim, Motor City Mink and Blue Diamond Organization that have been successfully prosecuted. Prosecutions generally begin with a report of a runaway child, arrest on the "track" or street where prostitutes walk, drug overdoses that end in the hospital, escort services that advertise on the internet, which creates the interstate nexus for federal jurisdiction. The goal is to find a cooperating prostitute that can help bring down the organization.

"There are witness issues," Mulcahy said. "most of these girls have prior arrests, drug problems, no identity cards and most important they don't want to be rescued. They feel valued and don't think of themselves as victims."

Mulcahy's office charges child prostitution, drug trafficking, child pornography and money laundering, which are subject to Federal sentencing.

"If there isn't an interstate nexus," said Kelly Carter, Michigan Assistant Attorney General, "if they didn't cross state lines, it is a local crime so we will look to charging under state statutes. Michigan's Human Trafficking Act covers the same crimes as the federal statute."

The "buzz" words of the statute, which was amended last year to include the terms, are force, fraud and coercion she explained. "Where someone exercises force, fraud or coercion over the victim to gain favor or services that the trafficker benefits from" there could be a charge of commercial sex trafficking of adults or juveniles or forced labor. Domestic servitude is a big area where someone is brought in from another country and forced to work while the handler controls their documents."

In the 2011 amendments, the legislature included some special restitution provisions for victims of human trafficking. Those provisions include any loss suffered such lost income, housing costs, childcare expenses, travel expense and attorneys fees. The legislature also "inserting human trafficking as a predicate offense or one of the crimes that can be used to prove racketeering or the business of crime."

One of the important aspects, she said, "is to recognize the case as a human trafficking case but I want to make sure I charge all the other appropriate crimes."

The national association of attorneys general has taken on human trafficking as a crime they want to focus on this year. This could lead to a nation wide legislative framework for states to be able to develop the most useful legislation to go after traffickers.

Her office is working on a case involving three minors with one pimp. "I charged the human trafficking crime," she said, " and he is charged with 14 crimes including six life felonies, racketeering, pandering, and numerous counts of Criminal Sexual Conduct."

"The goal of doing these cases," she said, "is not only to get justice for the victims but to prevent more victimization of vulnerable individuals."

"The primary need of crime victims is be heard, which may mean," particularly in the case of trafficking victims, "that they do not want to prosecute," said Roberta Haney-Jones, Victim Rights Program Director, Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Mi.

"We have four primary needs in Michigan," she said. "We need to develop best practices with regard to human trafficking cases, training programs, public awareness and services of social services." Human trafficking victims are not currently covered under Michigan's Victim Rights.

Keith Clark is a Wayne County prosecutor in the special victim's unit. He has never used trafficking crimes since "the elements are confusing to the jury and there were other crimes that were just as effective."

Kevin Mulcahy, Assistant U.S. Attorney, is Chief of the General Crimes Unit, which prosecutes all federal crimes against children. This fall prosecution of human trafficking offenses was assigned to his unit. Kelly Carter, Assistant Attorney General, Senior Attorney Specialist, prosecuting human trafficking in addition to mortgage fraud. Roberta Haney-Jones, the Victim Rights Program Director for the Prosecuting Attorney's Association of Michigan, is an active member of the Human Trafficking Task Force of Michigan.

Dean Joan Howarth welcomed the students, professors and the general public to the event. She recognized and thanked the sponsors, the Modern Abolitionist Legal Society, Public Interest Law Society, Federal Atty Practice Assoc. and the Career Services Office. These organizations demonstrate that "student leadership, professional leadership and all of you working to make this law college a setting for addressing the most important issues of our day."

Published: Mon, Nov 21, 2011

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