Human Trafficking for Involuntary Servitude
(Colorado 18-3-503 C.R.S.)

agricultural workers picking green beans in field

Human trafficking of an adult or minor in Colorado

Section 18-3-503 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (C.R.S.) makes it a felony to engage in human trafficking for involuntary servitude.
18-3-503 (1) C.R.S. provides:

A person who knowingly sells, recruits, harbors, transports, transfers, isolates, entices, provides, receives, or obtains by any means another person for the purpose of coercing the other person to perform labor or services commits human trafficking for involuntary servitude.

If the labor or services consist of sex, it is the separate crime of human trafficking for sexual servitude, 18-3-504 C.R.S.

To help you better understand the crime of human trafficking for involuntary servitude, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

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1. The legal meaning of “coerce”

“Coerce” is defined in 18-3-503 (2) C.R.S., which provides:

“Coercing” means inducing a person to act or to refrain from acting, if the inducement is accomplished by any one or more of the following means:

  • (a) The use or threat of the use of force against, abduction of, causing of serious harm to, or physical restraint of a person;
  • (b) The use of a plan, pattern, or statement for the purpose of causing the person to believe that failure to perform the act or failure to refrain from performing the act will result in the use of force against, abduction of, causing of serious harm to, or physical restraint of that person or another person;
  • (c) Using or threatening to use the law or the legal process, whether administrative, civil, or criminal, in any manner or for any purpose for which the law was not designed;
  • (d) Threatening to notify law enforcement officials that a person is present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws;
  • (e) The destruction or taking, or a threat to destroy or take, a person's identification document or other property;
  • (f) Controlling or threatening to control a person's access to a controlled substance, as defined in section 18-18-102(5);
  • (g) The use of debt bondage; or
  • (h) The exploitation of a person's physical or mental impairment, where such impairment has a substantial adverse effect on the person's cognitive or volitional functions.

2. What is debt bondage?

“Debt bondage” is defined in 18-3-503 (2) C.R.S. as:

  • (a) Demanding commercial sexual activity as payment toward or satisfaction of a real or purported debt; or
  • (b) Demanding labor or services as payment toward or satisfaction of a real or purported debt and failing to apply the reasonable value of the labor or services toward the liquidation of the debt; or
  • (c) Demanding labor or services where the length of the labor or services is not limited and the nature of the labor or services is not defined.

3. Examples of involuntary servitude

According to the Center for Public Policy Studies' Colorado Human Trafficking Fact Sheet, most non-sex labor trafficking consists of:

  • domestic servitude (nannies, housekeepers), 
  • small businesses (landscaping, nail salons, restaurants, industrial cleaning, construction, hospitality), 
  • sales crews (magazines, flowers and candy), and 
  • large scale labor cases (agricultural, factory settings).

Colorado also has a high incidence of human trafficking of sheep herders in rural western Colorado. Immigrants with H-2A visas are particularly vulnerable to abuse, mistreatment and labor trafficking as a result of:

  • extreme isolation,
  • low wages,
  • lack of access to electricity or cell phones,
  • fear of blacklisting, 
  • having their identity documents taken by their employers, and 
  • lack of protection by the Department of Labor.
hands of man shearing a sheep

4. Penalties for Colorado human trafficking for involuntary servitude

Human trafficking for involuntary servitude is a class 3 felony if the victim is an adult, and a class 2 felony if the victim is a child under 18. It is also classified as a Colorado “extraordinary risk” crime, giving it an increased maximum sentence over other crimes in its class.

Punishment for human trafficking of an adult can include:

  • 4-16 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

Consequences of human trafficking of a child can include:

  • 16-48 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.

And even these harsh sentences increase if the servitude is enforced by inflicting bodily harm or using or threatening the use of a deadly weapon.

5. Defenses to human trafficking for involuntary servitude

Human trafficking is a complex crime with many parts that the prosecution must prove. The best defense to Colorado human trafficking charges will, therefore, depend on the specific facts of your case.

The important thing to remember when defending a charge of human trafficking is that the burden is on the prosecution to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Our Colorado criminal attorneys will consider all the facts and look for ways to show that:

  • You did not coerce the person into performing services,
  • You did not use threat or force against the alleged victim,
  • You did not threaten the alleged victim with legal action or deportation,
  • You did not take the person's identification papers away,
  • You did not withhold someone's access to a controlled substance for the purpose of coercion,
  • You did not demand labor or services from anyone to satisfy a debt (or if you did, you gave the person credit for the reasonable value of such services), 
  • You did not exploit anyone's mental or physical disability,
  • The service was for a fixed period of time and had well-defined responsibilities, and/or
  • The person was free to leave your service at any time.

6. Federal human trafficking laws

18 U.S. Code 1589 is the United States law against forced labor. It prohibits providing or obtaining the labor or services of a person by:

  • force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint to that person or another person;
  • serious harm or threats of serious harm to that person or another person;
  • the abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process;
  • any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause the person to believe that, if that person did not perform such labor or services, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint; or
  • knowingly benefiting or receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which has engaged in the providing or obtaining of labor or services by any of the means described above.

Violation of 18 U.S.C. 1589 can be punished by a hefty fine and up to 20 years in federal prison with no possibility of parole.

Call us for help…

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Human trafficking is a Colorado felony that could get you sent to prison for many years, especially if the person involved is under 18.

If you or someone you know has been charged with human trafficking, it is critical to hire the best Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to mount a defense.

We represent clients of human trafficking throughout the state of Colorado. Communities we serve include Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Thornton, Arvada, Westminster, Centennial and Boulder.

To contact one of our experienced Colorado criminal lawyers, contact us confidentially using the form on this page, or call us at our Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112

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