The Nevada Legislature is cracking down on allegations of Human Trafficking.
Human trafficking is the transportation of undocumented aliens for illegal purposes or financial gain. Typical examples of human trafficking in the Nevada are:
- A factory owner transporting Mexican migrants to work at a Washoe County factory for little or no money
- A drug lord transporting Columbian “drug mules” into Nevada
- A pimp trafficking Russian “mail order brides” to be prostitutes at a Las Vegas “gentleman's club” (which may also qualify as the separate Nevada crime of sex trafficking
Human trafficking may be punished as harshly as murder depending on the circumstances. A possible defense to human trafficking is that the defendant was unaware of the victim's alien status. Another is that the defendant didn't act for financial gain or unlawful reasons.
This page explains the Nevada crime of human trafficking. Scroll down to learn its definition, common defenses, and possible punishments.
Legal definition of Human Trafficking in Nevada
Human trafficking is the trade of people who are then usually forced to work as laborers or prostitutes. Most victims are transported from Mexico, East Asia and other countries. Traffickers typically trap victims by promising them a job or an education in the U.S. Then the traffickers keep them subservient through physical, sexual and emotional abuse.1
Human trafficking is the most rapidly
growing criminal industry worldwide.
Nevada State Law
Nevada has two separate statutes outlawing human trafficking. What distinguishes them is the defendant's motive for trafficking. Note that these two laws apply only when the defendant knows (or should know) that the victims are illegal aliens:
1) Trafficking for financial gain
It's unlawful to transport another person into Nevada when the purpose is for money or other financial gain. Note that a defendant may be liable even if he/she merely arranged or assisted in transporting the victim.2Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:
Example: A corrupt Henderson factor owner pays Hal and Henry to bring desperate migrant workers into Nevada to work at the factory for no pay. Hal buys the train tickets, and Henry accompanies the non-citizens on the train into Nevada. When police find out about this scheme, they arrest and book both Hal and Henry at the Henderson Detention Center for human trafficking.
It doesn't matter in the above example that Hal wasn't physically with or moving the victims. Merely orchestrating the transport makes him as criminally liable as Henry.
2) Trafficking for illegal purposes
It's unlawful in Nevada to transport another person into Nevada with the intent to either:
(a) Subject the person to involuntary servitude; or
(b) Violate any state or federal labor law; or
(c) Commit a felony in Nevada.3
Note that someone may be convicted of human trafficking even if he/she fails to trap any victims. North Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse illustrates how this could work:
Example: Howard owns a factory in Las Vegas and wants free labor. He arranges for several illegal aliens to come into Nevada on the false promise of good jobs at his factory. In reality, Howard intends to keep them locked up in the factory to work for free.
However after the victims arrive in Las Vegas, they manage to flee to police before they could be taken to the factory. The police then arrest and book Howard at the Clark County Detention Center for trafficking because he intended to subject the victims to involuntary servitude.
It doesn't matter in the above example that the victims never worked at the factory, and that they fled to freedom. That Howard planned to import illegal aliens for the purpose of using them as indentured servants makes him liable.
Note a defendant may be convicted of both trafficking for financial gain and trafficking for illegal purposes.
Tens of thousands of human trafficking victims
are in the U.S., and it's estimated that nearly half of them
are under 18.
Federal Crime of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is also a federal crime under the Thirteenth Amendment and Title 18 of the U.S Code. Therefore allegations of human trafficking in Nevada are usually litigated in Federal District Court in Nevada. Note that a person may be prosecuted in both state and federal court for the same human trafficking crime.
The government agencies that enforce federal laws on human trafficking include:
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and
- United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section
Trafficking victims who escape or are freed may be able to apply for a T-Visa, which gives them resident status.4
Defenses to Human Trafficking in Nevada
Human trafficking cases are among the most complex in Nevada due to the seriousness of the charges. Which defenses work best for a particular defendant depend on the circumstances of the case. The following are possible defense strategies:
The best defenses to human trafficking
hinge on the facts of the case.
- Lack of knowledge. An element of human trafficking is that the defendant know (or should know) that the victim is an illegal alien. Therefore the D.A. has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was aware of victim's unlawful resident status. If the D.A. can't meet this burden, the charge should be dropped.
- No financial gain or illegal purpose. Another element of human trafficking is that the defendant's motive be monetary gain or an unlawful purpose. So if the defense attorney shows that the defendant had no financial or illegal motive, the defendant shouldn't be held liable. The types of evidence that D.A.s may rely on in these cases include wiretaps, bank records, and witnesses.
- Illegal police activity. Another defense strategy is to file with the court a motion to suppress evidence in Nevada. In this motion the defense attorney would argue that the police performed an illegal search (such as by lacking a warrant). If the court agrees, the judge will disregard the evidence found from the illegal search. This in turn may cause the government to drop the entire human trafficking case for lack of proof.
Penalties for Human Trafficking in Nevada
Trafficking humans carries long prison terms.
The punishment for human trafficking in Nevada depends upon the defendant's motive for trafficking:
Trafficking people for money or other financial gain is a category B felony
in Nevada carrying:
- 1 to 10 years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $50,0005
Meanwhile, trafficking people for an unlawful purpose is also a category B felony in Nevada…but the prison sentence may be harsher:
- 1 to 20 years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $50,0006
Note that victims may bring civil suits against people who transported them or profited from their trafficking. Depending on the case, victims may recover the following monetary judgments:
- actual damages,
- compensatory damages,
- punitive damages,
- treble damages, and/or
- attorney's fees and costs.7
Suspects in human trafficking cases face
both criminal and civil lawsuits.
Federal Human Trafficking Penalties
The federal punishment for human trafficking also depends upon the purpose of the trafficking:
Trafficking in people for forced labor carries up to 20 years in Federal Prison as well as fines. But the sentence may be increased to life if the defendant committed the following crimes in the course of trafficking:8
- the federal crime of kidnapping (or attempted kidnap), or
- aggravated sexual abuse (or attempted aggravated sexual abuse), or
- the federal crime of murder (or attempted murder)
Meanwhile, the federal penalties for trafficking children for commercial sexual exploitation depends on two factors:
- 1) the age of the child, and
- 2) whether the defendant used force, threats, fraud or coercion to knowingly transport or recruit the minor for prostitution9
|Age of Victim||Defendant Used Force/Threats/Fraud/Coercion||Sentence|
|Under 14 years old||Doesn't matter||15 years to life in prison|
|14 - 17 years old||Yes||15 years to life in prison|
|14 - 17 years old||No||10 years to life in prison|
Accused of human trafficking? Call an attorney…
If you're accused of violating Nevada human trafficking law, our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers can help. Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. We may be able to get the charges reduced or even dismissed if we can debunk the state's evidence. Otherwise we can go to trial and fight vigorously in attempt to clear your name and win a "not guilty" verdict.
We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Clark County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight and Tonopah.
5NRS 200.467; NRS 200.468.
7Nev. AB 67 (2013).
818 U.S.C. 1590.