Forced labor is illegal in Nevada. Courts impose severe prison sentences for holding or recruiting people into involuntary servitude. But a skilled Nevada criminal defense attorney may be able to get the entire case dismissed by showing that the allegations are false.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers discuss the Nevada offense of "involuntary servitude." Keep reading to learn what constitutes involuntary servitude, how to defend against criminal charges, and potential penalties.
Definition of "involuntary servitude" in Nevada
Involuntary servitude is a kind of slavery. The legal definition of "involuntary servitude" in Nevada occurs when someone forces ... or attempts to force ... another person to work by either:
- causing ... or threatening to cause ... physical harm to any person, OR
- physically restraining ... or threatening to physically restrain ... any person, OR
- abusing ... or threatening to abuse ... the law or legal process, OR
- knowingly destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating or possessing any actual or purported passport or other immigration document belonging to the victim, OR
- knowingly destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating or possessing any actual or purported government identification document belonging to the victim, OR
- committing the Nevada crime of extortion on the victim, OR
- causing ... or threatening to cause ... financial harm to any person
Involuntary servitude is therefore a very broad crime in Nevada. Many forced labor cases involving undocumented workers go unreported because they fear outing their alien status. Moapa Valley criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example:
Anya sneaks into the U.S. to try to earn money to send to her family in Russia. She gets a job in Henderson as a housekeeper for Jane, who then keeps Anya locked in the house and threatens to beat her if she doesn't clean. If Anya calls the Henderson Police for help, Jane could be booked at the Henderson Detention Center for involuntary servitude. However, Anya then risks exposing her undocumented status to the authorities.
Note that a defendant may be convicted of involuntary servitude in Nevada even if he/she doesn't personally force someone to work. Merely intending or knowing that victims may be subjected to involuntary servitude is a crime if the defendant promotes their forced labor by either:
- benefiting financially or receiving anything of value from someone's involuntary servitude, OR
- recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or somehow obtaining a person to be held in involuntary servitude, OR
- attempting to recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, or somehow obtain a person to be held in involuntary servitude
It's also a form of involuntary servitude to try to own, purchase, or trade a human being. Specifically, it's unlawful in Nevada to do any of the following:
- assume ... or attempt to assume ... rights of ownership over another person, OR
- sell ... or attempt to sell ... a person to another, OR
- buy ... or attempt to buy ... a person, OR
- receive money or anything in value in return for placing a person in custody or under the control of another, OR
- pay money or deliver anything in value to another in return for having placed a person in his/her custody or under his/her control, OR
- knowing aid or assist another person to try to buy, sell or own a person
Involuntary servitude as a hate crime
Involuntary servitude may be prosecuted as a Nevada hate crime if the accused forced the victim to work because of the victim's race, sexual orientation, religion, color, national origin, or mental or physical disability. Bunkerville criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse provides an illustration:
John forces Max, who is mentally challenged, to work for John's Las Vegas landscaping business, and John locks Max in his basement when Max isn't working. If John is caught, the Las Vegas police can book John at the Clark County Detention Center for involuntary servitude. If the prosecution believes that John exploited Max because of his diminished mental capacity, the charge would be treated as a hate crime.
Note that involuntary servitude isn't a separate offense from hate crimes. Rather, a hate crime is an "enhancement" that increases the penalties of the underlying crime. Therefore a conviction for involuntary servitude as a hate crime carries harsher punishments than straight-up involuntary servitude with no hate crime element.
Trafficking people for involuntary servitude (NRS 200.468)
Under Nevada trafficking laws it's illegal to transport an illegal alien into Nevada with the intent that the person is subjected to involuntary servitude. Note that trafficking persons can also be prosecuted in federal court. Learn more about Federal trafficking laws in Nevada.
Defenses to "involuntary servitude" in Nevada
There are several methods for challenging criminal charges of involuntary servitude in Nevada. As with any case, the most efficacious strategy is determined by the available evidence and circumstances of the lawsuit. Among the most common defenses are the following:
- False allegations: Perhaps a disgruntled worker has wrongly accused his/her employer of involuntary servitude out of revenge. Or perhaps the accused was mistaken for someone else. If the defense attorney can show that the defendant is the victim of false allegations, the charges may be dropped.
- No intent: A defendant isn't criminally liable for involuntary servitude is he/she did not act knowingly. If the prosecutor can't prove that the defendant intended to perpetuate forced labor, the case should be dismissed.
- Lack of evidence: A court shouldn't convict a defendant of involuntary servitude unless it finds that the prosecutor proved the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore the defense attorney would try to both undermine the state's evidence while presenting other evidence favorable to the defendant. If the court sides with the defense attorney, the defendant should be acquitted.
Penalties for "involuntary servitude" in Nevada
Involuntary servitude is prosecuted as a category B felony in Nevada carrying a possible fine of up to $50,000 as well as possible victim restitution. Defendants also face incarceration in Nevada State Prison. The length of the prison term depends on the type of involuntary servitude offense:
Holding someone in involuntary servitude:
The severity of the sentence for holding someone in involuntary servitude turns on whether the victim sustained substantial bodily harm in Nevada while being held in involuntary servitude or trying to escape from it:
- If the victim suffered substantial bodily harm, the defendant faces seven to twenty years in Nevada State Prison.
- If the victim suffered no substantial bodily harm, the defendant faces five to twenty years in Nevada State Prison.
Recruiting someone into involuntary servitude:
Recruiting someone into involuntary servitude or otherwise benefiting from involuntary servitude carries one to fifteen years in Nevada State Prison.
Purchasing, selling, or owning a person:
Assuming rights of ownership over another person in any manner carries five to twenty years in Nevada State Prison.
Involuntary servitude as a hate crime:
A defendant's prison sentence for involuntary servitude may be as much as doubled if the court finds that it was done as a hate crime.
Trafficking a person into Nevada:
It's a category B felony in Nevada to transport an undocumented non-citizen into Nevada for the purposes of involuntary servitude. The punishment is one to twenty years in Nevada State Prison and a possible fine of up to $50,000.
Involuntary servitude victims:
Note that victims of involuntary servitude who were convicted of loitering, trespass or prostitution may be able to get their convictions sealed. (Nevada AB 243 (2017)).
Accused of "involuntary servitude" in Nevada?
Call a lawyer for help ...
If you're facing allegations of "involuntary servitude" in Nevada, call our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation about your case. Perhaps we can get the charges lessened to minor offenses or have them dropped altogether.
We represent clients throughout Nevada, including Las Vegas, Henderson, Washoe County, Reno, Carson City, Laughlin, Mesquite, Bunkerville, Moapa, Elko, Pahrump, Searchlight and Tonopah.