Human Traffickers and Police Stings

Is a would-be pimp guilty of attempting human trafficking of minor when the person he is soliciting is actually an adult police officer? Yes, in California.

Pimping minors is an exceptionally despicable crime. Finding and convicting the perpetrators can be difficult, though, if it requires testimony of teens or children who have already been sucked into the illicit enterprise and are intimidated by the perpetrators. Police “stings” are therefore an important element of controlling this crime.

California Penal Code section 236.1(c) provides:

A person who causes, induces, or persuades, or attempts to cause, induce, or persuade, a person who is a minor at the time of commission of the offense to engage in a commercial sex act, with the intent to effect or maintain a violation of [certain enumerated crimes] is guilty of human trafficking.

Note that for this statute attempt is built into the definition of the crime, so there is no separate attempt to commit the crime.

Here is the first paragraph of today’s decision of the California Supreme Court in People v. Moses, S258143:

Penal Code section 236.1, subdivision (c)1 prohibits the human trafficking of a minor. It includes an attempt to commit trafficking as part of the definition of the substantive offense. Here we consider the attempt aspect of the definition. Defendant Antonio Chavez Moses III was convicted of attempting to recruit “Bella” as a prostitute. Bella had identified herself to Moses as a 17-year-old girl, but was, in fact, an undercover detective. The question here is whether, in light of the statutory language, he can be convicted of an attempt under the trafficking statute. We conclude that he can, based on this state’s long-standing application of attempt law.