Human trafficking is the transportation people 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; or
- 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 carry years or decades in Nevada State Prison. A possible defense is that the defendant did not act for financial gain or unlawful reasons. Another defense for trafficking adults is that the defendant was unaware of the victim's alien status.
In this article, our Las Vegas human trafficking attorneys answer frequently-asked-questions about the illegal transfer of people including defense strategies, possible punishments, record seal wait times, and immigration consequences. Click on a topic to jump to that section:
- 1. What is human trafficking in Nevada?
- 2. How do I fight "human trafficking" charges in Nevada?
- 3. Can I go to prison for "human trafficking" in Nevada?
- 4. Can I get my "human trafficking" case sealed in Nevada?
- 5. Can I get deported for "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 Eastern Europe.
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.
Human trafficking is the most rapidly growing criminal industry worldwide.1 Human trafficking is a crime under both Nevada state law and federal law:
1.1. Nevada state crime of human trafficking
Nevada has two statutes outlawing trafficking of undocumented citizens and one new statute regarding child trafficking. What distinguishes them is the defendant's motives for trafficking:
1.1.1. Trafficking for financial gain
It is unlawful to knowingly transport an illegal alien 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 does not matter in the above example that Hal was not physically with or moving the victims. Merely orchestrating the transport makes him as criminally liable as Henry.
1.1.2. Trafficking for illegal purposes
It is unlawful in Nevada to knowingly transport an illegal alien into Nevada with the intent to either:
- Subject the person to involuntary servitude; or
- Violate any state or federal labor law; or
- 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 does not 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.
Learn more in our article on Nevada sex crimes.
1.1.3. Trafficking in children
It is unlawful to transport a child (under 18) in exchange for anything of value or for the purpose of avoiding responsibility for the child. Note that it does not matter whether the child is American.4
1.2. 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.
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
Note that a person may be prosecuted in both state and federal court for the same human trafficking crime. And trafficking victims who escape or are freed may be able to apply for a T-Visa for resident status.5
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 turn on the circumstances of the case. The following are possible defense strategies:
Lack of knowledge. An element of trafficking adults 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. cannot 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 (or with child trafficking, an intent to avoid responsibility for a child). So if the defense attorney shows that the defendant had no financial or illegal motive, the defendant should not 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. If the police may have performed an illegal search, the defense attorney can ask the judge to disregard any evidence found through the search; this is called a motion to suppress evidence. If the court agrees, the government may choose to drop the entire human trafficking case for lack of proof.
Yes. Both Nevada state and federal judges may impose lengthy prison sentences for human trafficking. Note that it may be possible for charges to get lessened or dismissed depending on the case.
3.1. Nevada penalties for human trafficking
The punishment for human trafficking in Nevada depends upon the defendant's motive for trafficking:
Trafficking illegal aliens for money or other financial gain is a category B felony in Nevada carrying:
- one to ten (1 - 10) years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $50,0006
Trafficking illegal aliens for an unlawful purpose is also a category B felony in Nevada…but the prison sentence may be harsher:
- one to twenty (1 to 20) years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $50,0007
Finally, trafficking a child in exchange for something of value or to avoid responsibility for the child is a category C felony in Nevada. The penalty is:
- one to ten (1 to 10) years in Nevada State Prison, and
- maybe a fine of up to $10,0008
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.9
3.2. Federal penalties for human trafficking
The federal punishment for human trafficking also depends upon the purpose of the trafficking:
Trafficking in people for forced labor carries up to twenty (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:10
- 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 prostitution11
|Age of Victim||Sentence|
Under 14 years old
15 years to life in prison
14 – 17 years old (defendant used force, threats, fraud, or coercion)
15 years to life in prison
14 – 17 years old (defendant did not use force, threats, fraud, or coercion)
10 years to life in prison
Probably. Human trafficking cases may be sealed five (5) years after the case is closed. Dismissed charges of human trafficking may be sealed right away.12
Yes. As a crime involving moral turpitude, human trafficking is a deportable offense. Aliens prosecuted for human trafficking are advised to retain experienced counsel in attempt to get the case dropped or changed to a non-deportable charge. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.13
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...
If you are accused of human trafficking in Nevada, 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.
Learn about California human trafficking laws.
Learn about Colorado human trafficking laws.
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.