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On September 1, 2011, new human trafficking laws—originally HB (House Bill) 3000 and SB (Senate Bill) 24—went into effect in Texas, thereby making these pieces of legislation officially “the law” in Texas. Though it is too early to know how these new laws will be interpreted by the courts, here is a quick look at what sort of alleged activity the new laws cover, how they punish that alleged activity, and how the new laws affect existing Texas laws.
Prior to the enactment of HB 3000 and SB 24 into law, human trafficking was already criminalized in Texas under section 20A.02 of the Texas Penal Code, which, in a nutshell, makes it illegal to transport, recruit, or provide another person, (i.e., the victim,); knowing or intending that the trafficked victim will be engaged in forced labor. TEX. PEN. CODE § 20A.02 (2009). The existing law also criminalized benefiting from such acts, be it through free labor, from a monetary benefit, or through some other means. An offense under this section was characterized as a felony of the second degree, punishable by a period of two to twenty years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. If the trafficked victim happens also to be a minor, or if the trafficking resulted in the death of the victim, the punishment could have been five years to 99 years or life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000, which made it a first degree felony.
SB 24 amended section 20A.02 to explicitly criminalize trafficking another person through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of prostitution. Id. at §20A.02(3). It further criminalizes engaging in sexual conduct with a victim trafficked for prostitution. Id. at § 20A.02(a)(4). So, prior to SB 24, one who solicited a prostitute who had been trafficked and forced into prostitution could not be punished under the harsher trafficking law. Soliciting a prostitute was a misdemeanor under section 43.02 of the Texas
Penal Code, and a first offense was punishable by up to a $2000 fine, a jail sentence of up to 180 days, or both. Now, under the new laws, if the person solicited happens to be a trafficking victim, the person doing the soliciting (as in not the victim who was trafficked) may be punished under the new trafficking law and face felony charges, a longer sentence, and a larger fine. Section 20A.02(a)(4) has no knowledge requirement, meaning that it would not matter if the person does not know the prostitute he intends to hire is a trafficking victim.
HB 3000 created a new offense called Continuous Trafficking of Persons now found in section 20A.03 of the Texas Penal Code. A person commits this new offense by engaging in an offense under section 20A.02 two or more times within a thirty day period. A defendant under this new offense may be charged with one count of Continuous Trafficking per victim trafficked. Continuous Trafficking of Persons is a first degree felony and carries with it a sentence of 25 years to 99 years or life.
In this last legislative session, the State of Texas muscled up the anti-human trafficking laws considerably. With border security being a hot-button issue on both the state and federal levels, these newly-enacted laws are meant to put those in the business of smuggling people into this state behind bars, and deter those who might consider this lucrative type of smuggling.