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May 11, 2017

Interesting report on plea realities impacting severity of sentences for sex trafficking offenses in Massachusetts

I just saw this recent Boston Herald article, headlined "Special Report: Sex traffickers evading tough prison sentences," which highlights the ways and reasons why a new Massachusetts law designed to toughen sentencing outcomes for certain sex offenders may not get consistently applied due to plea practices and related case-processing dynamics.  Here are excerpts:

Accused pimps and sex traffickers who could face decades behind bars under state law are often being allowed to plead down to less time and reduced charges, with more than half of convictions netting minimum sentences or less, according to a Herald review.

The softer sentencing patterns identified by a Herald survey of cases prosecuted by the attorney general and the state’s 11 district attorneys come five years after lawmakers passed a much-ballyhooed sex-trafficking law billed as a get-tough measure on criminals driving the sex trade.  But prosecutors and victim advocates say the sentences highlight the long-standing challenge in bringing complex cases reliant on vulnerable and sometimes reluctant victims.

The law called for sentences of five to 20 years for those convicted of trafficking, and up to life for those who prostitute minors.  But a Herald review of 32 trafficking cases statewide found 21 defendants in a position to serve the minimum five-year sentence or less, with three getting outright probation.  At least 18 times defendants took pleas to reduced charges — avoiding a human-trafficking conviction entirely. The average sentence of all reviewed cases fell between four and five-and-a-half years.  That’s a rate state Sen. Mark Montigny, the bill’s chief sponsor, slammed as “abysmal” — and exactly what he was trying to avoid when he drafted the law.

“Never once in my career have I put a mandatory minimum in a bill, but in trafficking of children, I put one in because I didn’t want to see plea-bargaining down,” said Montigny, who decried what he called a “societal ignorance” around the seriousness of the sex trade. “It’s unbelievable. … Not much has changed. And I’m so disappointed in that.”...

Prosecutors have been able to secure some long sentences under the new law.  Tyshaun McGhee and Sidney McGee, the first defendants convicted under the statute, got sentences of 10-to-15 and 10-to-12 years, respectively, after a Suffolk County jury found them guilty.  Ryan Duntin, who plead guilty in 2015, got a 10-year sentence.

But prosecutors defended their handling of the pleaded, low-sentence cases, noting they face a web of challenges. Frightened witnesses are often battling intense trauma or substance abuse, and sometimes are reluctant to go to trial, which makes scoring a jury conviction difficult.  Other times authorities have initially brought trafficking charges against girlfriends of the pimps, known as “bottoms,” who help recruit and intimidate victims.  But they sometimes are also seen as exploited victims themselves, leading prosecutors to later bring reduced charges.

Other circumstances have played a role. In Suffolk County, one accused trafficker pleaded to receive a four- to five-year sentence after one of his alleged victims died of an overdose before trial, dealing a blow to the case. In Bristol County, prosecutors said they were forced to dismiss one case because the victim wouldn’t cooperate.

Prosecutors are also wary of forcing victims, especially minors, to take the stand and risk re-traumatizing them, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. “When you’ve got victims terrified about what might come up when they take the stand ... and they’re on board with a guilty plea and we can get a 10-year or an eight-year sentence, that’s a successful prosecution,” Wark said....

Stephanie Clark, executive director of Amirah, an advocacy group that works with and houses trafficking victims, said she wasn’t surprised traffickers are getting softer sentences, given that cases hinge on victims who may back out.

May 11, 2017 at 05:49 PM | Permalink


Once again "contact offenses" getting less time than "non-contact" offenses.
Makes no sense at all, that's the American way of justice.

Posted by: kat | May 12, 2017 9:13:38 AM

Pimps are really the scum of the earth. They use force or the threat of force to coerce payment from these women/girls everyday. A serious pimp, particularly with minors, should get LWOP. I actually would not have a problem with the death penalty in certain cases.

Posted by: federalist | May 12, 2017 10:10:03 AM

@ kat:
Generally speaking,non-contact offenders get more time than contact offenders mainly because non-contact offenders are internet offenders. Computer hard drives, cell phones, digital cameras, etc...aid tremendously in collecting all the evidence any prosecutor could ever dream of having!

Posted by: tommyc | May 12, 2017 8:15:09 PM

Seems prosecutors who have "live" victims have evidence too.
Internet crime and punishment has been so over-blown by our government. They go after the little fish hoping it will lead to the big fish CP producers. It seldom does. We are locking up people for 5-10 and saddling them with "sex offender" labels for 15-life when in reality, most of them would have just stopped their internet searches had they been punished with a night in jail.
Our government is unjust.

Posted by: kat | May 13, 2017 10:02:13 AM

Of significant note is the lack of information regarding the requirement of these convicts to register as sex offenders. While much ado is given to the severity of the sentencing upon conviction, once an offender leaves the jurisdiction of the court system, he is still required to register as a Level 3 sex offender, which includes lifetime registration and all the restrictions and other requirements, all that entail additional state and federal felony punishments.

If the offenders are required to register, then the pragmatic result is that the sentence itself is actually secondary to the existence on the sex offender registry, and should be highlighted in the news report.

Posted by: Eric Knight | May 14, 2017 7:36:19 PM

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