The first case in Jefferson County to be prosecuted using Alabama’s new 2010 law regarding human trafficking has been dropped.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers understand that the case’s dismissal came at the request of prosecutors, but only after the judge granted a defense motion to suppress statements made by the three defendants.
Two of the defendants, the mother and grandmother of the alleged child victim, were accused of trading sex with the boy in exchange for crack cocaine and money from an Irondale man, who was accused of sex crimes. The charges were dropped just days before the trial was set to begin.
All three were facing 20 years to life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges, including human trafficking, first-degree sodomy and child sex abuse. The mother and grandmother were additionally charged with promoting prostitution and facilitating travel for sex with a child.
According to media reports, defense attorneys were not only successful in suppressing the evidence, but they had also questioned the credibility of the alleged victim, who had previously made similar accusations against others that had proven false. There was also evidence that he may have had some mental health issues.
He had previously told investigators that his mother and grandmother had received money and drugs by selling him. He is now in the custody of the state Department of Resources.
Defense attorneys later said that the accused had always maintained their innocence, but prosecutors said it was the child’s credibility issues that would prove especially problematic in moving forward with their case.
Absent DNA or other forensic evidence, this is often what many sex crime cases come down to: one person’s word versus another.
The human trafficking law, which was passed in April 2010 as House Bill 432, made Alabama the 44th state to expressly criminalize human trafficking under state law. It is intended to protect victims of human trafficking for purposes of labor and sex. It provides strict penalties for those convicted, as well as mandatory restitution for victims and allows victims to sue traffickers in civil court and to be compensated through asset forfeiture.
Fueling passage of the law was a 2009 federal case out of Birmingham, in which a man paid under-minimum wage to two male Guatemalan immigrants. The boss also reportedly took their visas, forced them into debt and then threatened to have them deported. Around the same time, another federal case out of Birmingham involved a man who reportedly forced a minor female into prostitution.
The law makes human trafficking in the first-degree a Class A felony in Alabama, which means it’s punishable by a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison. If a firearm is used in commission of this crime, the minimum can be raised to 20 years, with fines of up to $60,000.
Human trafficking in the second-degree is considered a Class B felony under the new law. This is intended for prosecution of those who may benefit from human trafficking, but may not directly faciliate it. Class B felonies in Alabama are punishable by between 2 and 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
It’s worth noting that neither of these has a statute of limitations, so charges may be brought at any time after the alleged incident.
There is also a category for obstruction in human trafficking cases, which has been deemed a Class C misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to three months in jail.