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Prosecutors struggle with human trafficking cases

BOSTON – Law cracking down on human trafficking are on the books in all 50 states, but beliefs are notoriously difficult to find, and prosecutors have not yet close to matching the success of their federal counterparts have had in winning the cases.

States need to add resources in support of victims of human trafficking, educate the public and train law enforcement, if the numbers of prosecutions and convictions are to improve, officials and experts say. In at least a dozen states, attorneys general are not even allowed to seek human trafficking charges.

Records requested from all 50 states of the u.s. by The Associated Press indicate a low conviction rate, since Washington was the first state to adopt a human trafficking law in 2003. A previous study proposed a 45% conviction rate by approximately the first ten years of the laws.

In contrast to the belief of the rate of prosecution under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, adopted in 2000, is about 80%, according to Justice Department data.

“We are not fully where we should be, but it is encouraging to see states pursuing these cases,” said Bradley Myles, executive director of the Polaris Project, which advocates for the passage of the law. “Prosecutors are still learning how to prosecute these cases successfully. We are in the process of seeing the field is ripe for more. It’s going to take time.”

The stress of the problems is the crime case against the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, whose lawyers May 13, managed to video evidence suppressed . The decision, if upheld, could force prosecutors to drop against Kraft and possible others among the 300 men targeted recruitment costs as part of a sweeping investigation of the massage parlor prostitution and possible human trafficking in Florida.

Some spa owners and operators face felony prostitution charges, but none of the suspects is charged in the member state of human trafficking law.

Some local officials point out that the plaintiffs don’t often win convictions on the other, often lower cost, that could be even suspected of trafficking in human beings in the street for a time, not unlike how the murder charges are sometimes downgraded to manslaughter. The study showed that 45% conviction rate also found that 72% of human trafficking cases that were investigated, has led to a kind of belief.

In the Florida prostitution case, many of the spa operators to be prosecuted on the basis of the state of the Racketeer influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which calls for the same maximum sentence, 30 years in prison, as well as for trafficking in human beings.

That means that the prosecutors don’t have to rely on the testimony of the victims, which is often difficult to obtain, in order to build their cases, while still able to aim for long sentences, said Jeffrey Hendriks, a prosecutor in Fort Pierce treatment six of the felony cases.

“From a legal analysis, what is the harm? We want to try to these people, to a maximum of 30 years. Why the rest of your whole thing on the victims?” Hendriks said. “I don’t want to sound flip, but that is the analysis. It is just a better fit.”

Most member states are not obliged to follow the prosecutions and convictions for trafficking crimes.

The AP asked state attorneys general or other government agencies for consistent with the prosecution of trafficking in human beings, trafficking in human beings beliefs and convictions on other charges in their states, since their local law was enacted. The AP also asked how many cases resulted in no conviction or are still pending.

Five states did not respond. Of those who did, many figures will be provided for one or a few of the categories, but not for others, so it’s completely the same and direct comparisons are not possible. But the AP’s review suggests there are many hundreds of prosecutions for trafficking in human beings at national level, but relatively few convictions for trafficking crimes.

At least a height of 2700 defendants nationwide were charged because the state of Washington enacted the first law in 2003, the AP found. Only 440 were convicted specifically of sex, work, children or other human beings.

Nearly 500 others were sentenced less however related crimes, such as prostitution and drug possession. Nearly 300 others resulted in no conviction, either because of a guilty verdict or because the charges were withdrawn or rejected, and more than 200 cases are pending.

Some states would need to consider to their attorneys general authority to prosecute human trafficking cases, said Julie Dahlstrom, a professor who is the head of Boston University’s Immigrants’ Rights & human Trafficking Program.

Attorneys general in Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia told the AP they miss the authority for the prosecution of cases of trafficking in human beings, as the primary criminal prosecuting powers are in the district and the province of lawyers, or because the legislation of a member state does not specifically allow them to prosecute the crimes.

But even in states where the attorney general has prosecutorial powers, convictions are still low, the AP review suggests.

In Massachusetts, at least 216 people have been charged with human trafficking crimes under the state’s 2011 law, but only 18 have been convicted for them, the AP found. About 50 others were sentenced for other crimes, 70 were convicted, and approximately 80 have the current affairs.

That is a conviction rate of 8%.

State Sen. Mark Montigny, a Democrat from New Bedford, who has proposed changes to improve efficiency, has proposed that the state offer training programs for local law enforcement agencies; the launch of a human trafficking public awareness campaign; the compilation of an annual report of investigation and prosecution; and to designate additional public money for human trafficking survivor support services.

“Unfortunately, these figures are not surprising,” Montigny said. “Prosecutions and convictions are not likely to increase unless and until we take the necessary reforms.”

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Follow Philip Marcelo in twitter.com/philmarcelo.

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