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Texas Prosecutors Make Aggressive Use of “Human Trafficking” Law to Address Sex Crimes

Human trafficking–also known as sex trafficking–is traditionally understood to mean “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Sex trafficking is normally associated with the act of transporting someone across state or international lines for the purposes of engaging in commercial sex acts with other individuals.

But here in Texas, prosecutors have been quite aggressive in using the state’s human trafficking laws to go after individuals who engage in sexual acts with minors where the transportation was merely incidental to the act. In other words, if an adult drives a 15-year-old to their own house and has sex with them, the district attorney can prosecute that as sex trafficking in addition to other potential sex crimes, such as statutory rape.

Does Trafficking Require More Than One Perpetrator?

Although this might seem like an unduly expansive reading of what qualifies as “sex trafficking,” the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has signed off on this interpretation on at least two occasions. In a 2017 case, Ritz v. State, prosecutors charged a defendant with sex trafficking because he “transported” a 14-year-old girl to his home on multiple occasions to have sex with her. The CCA upheld a jury verdict of guilty to the charge of “continuous trafficking of a person.”

This past October, the CCA reaffirmed its Ritz decision in a separate case, Griffin v. State, involving a defendant accused of driving his minor victim to multiple locations to have sex with her. The CCA said its position since Ritz had not changed, and since the Texas legislature had not seen fit to clarify or amend the human trafficking law in the four years since that earlier ruling, the Court assumed its earlier interpretation of the law was correct.

Two CCA judges filed a dissenting opinion. The dissent noted the CCA “declined to address the proper construction of the statute in Ritz,” and in doing so had effectively enabled prosecutors to employ the law “beyond its proper scope.” The issue was that trafficking normally requires two perpetrators–the person transporting the victim and the person who engaged in sexual acts with the victim. But in Ritz and now Griffin, there was only one perpetrator who did both.

By doing this, the dissent noted that “any conduct that would otherwise constitute the offense of indecency with a child, sexual assault of a child, or aggravated sexual assault of a child,” by a single individual could now be prosecuted as human trafficking. The dissent argued this was likely not what the legislature intended.

Contact Houston Sex Crimes Defense Lawyer Tad Nelson Today

Unless and until the legislature acts, however, any person accused of engaging in illegal sexual activity with a minor could be facing additional “human trafficking” charges. That is why if you are charged with a sex offense or sex crime it is imperative you work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who will zealously represent your interests. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today to speak with a lawyer right away.