Sex trafficking is an extremely serious crime that carries a lengthy state prison sentence and a large fine.
In order to convict a defendant of sex trafficking, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
1) The defendant knowingly: subjected or attempted to subject; enticed; recruited; transported; harbored; or provided another person to engage in commercial sexual activity; or
2) The defendant knowingly caused another person to engage in commercial sexual activity; or
3) The defendant knowingly benefited (either financially or by receiving something else of value) as a result of causing another person to engage in commercial sexual activity.
The Massachusetts sex trafficking statute was enacted by the Legislature in 2011 and is similar to the federal sex trafficking law. However, a major difference is that the federal statute requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant used force or coercion in selling a person into prostitution. The Massachusetts statute requires only that the defendant knowingly sold a person into prostitution – force or coercion is not required. Therefore, the government has a much easier time convicting defendants under Massachusetts law rather than federal law.
Before the Massachusetts sex trafficking law was passed, there was already a statute that made it a crime for a person to derive support from a prostitute. The two laws intend to criminalize the same behavior, but the deriving support from a prostitute statute carries a maximum penalty of only five years in prison. The sex trafficking statute carries a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison. The sex trafficking law survived a constitutional challenge in 2015 in a case called Commonwealth v. McGhee. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the law was unconstitutionally vague and said the law passes constitutional muster.
The topic of sex trafficking has gained considerable attention in recent years and we are likely to see an increased number of prosecutions under the new statute. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has a division dedicated to sex trafficking and experienced prosecutors are aggressively going after pimps.
While the Massachusetts law is more prosecution-friendly than its federal counterpart, the government still faces considerable challenges. Obviously, the Commonwealth’s star witnesses will likely be the prostitutes who were allegedly working for the defendant. Many of these prostitutes will have lengthy criminal records and significant substance abuse problems. Because pimps generally do not keep business records of their illegal activities, there will not be documentary evidence to support the claims being made by the prostitutes. Therefore, juries will have to believe the prostitutes’ stories beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict defendants under this statute. Before trial, prosecutors will likely have to agree not to prosecute the prostitutes in order for the prostitutes to testify at trial. Therefore, the prostitutes have an incentive to provide testimony that will be helpful to the Commonwealth’s case. Attorney Spring will obtain the Commonwealth’s witnesses’ criminal records prior to trial and aggressively argue that the jury should be told about the witnesses’ prior criminal convictions. Attorney Spring will also cross-examine the Commonwealth’s witnesses about any agreements they made with the prosecution in order to argue that their stories should not be believed by the jury.