The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Prop. 35: Increases Sex and Labor Trafficking Penalties - Part II

On Wednesday, after discussing the pros and provisions of Prop. 35, we asked the rhetorical question, "Who could argue against additional penalties for child sex traffickers?" Well, we call those people lawyers. Whatever you do, don't rely on the state-provided arguments. They are laughably bad.

So, why might Proposition 35 actually be worth voting against? There are a few reasons. The increased sentences might qualify as cruel and unusual in certain cases. Longer sentences also mean further strain on the state budget. Plus, we already have laws that cover these acts. Finally, the law might allow voluntary prostitutes to escape punishment.


At one point in the state guide, opponents mentioned "cruel and unusual punishment." This might have merit. Let's say a pimp provides drugs to a 17-year-old who pays him with prostitution funds. Under the language of the statute, providing drugs to a prostitute could qualify as coercion or force, and a 17-year-old is technically underage. A life sentence is therefore possible. While the conduct is reprehensible, the existing sentence of eight years seems more appropriate than a life sentence.

Then again, remember that these are the maximum punishments, which are only given to the extreme cases and repeat offenders. Just because a life sentence is possible doesn't mean it will happen. Many criminal statutes have excessively harsh maximum sentences in order to account for the worst offenses, such as forcing a 12-year-old to become a prostitute. A high maximum simply means the punishment can be more effectively tailored to the crime.

A related argument that needs to be brought up is the cost of these lengthy sentences. Life sentences certainly sound expensive. Increased fines will only cover some of that expense. A nonpartisan legislative analysis estimated that it would cost only a few million more per year, but with the caveat that the figure was uncertain because federal authorities have handled these crimes up until now. Is it worth the cost to our overburdened budget?

Also, is the law necessary? We have pimping, prostitution, child prostitution, child pornography, and sex abuse laws. We have labor trafficking laws. There are also applicable federal laws. The only arguable benefit is some clarification of the statutes and increased penalties.

Finally, one small tweak to the evidence code creates a whole new issue: evidence of a prostitute's illegal acts is not admissible against her for prosecution of her own crimes. This shouldn't be an issue for child prostitutes or those forced into the profession, as punishing them would mean punishing victims. One might argue, however, that voluntary prostitutes should be punished and this will impair prosecutors' ability to do so.

However, what's more important: capturing the pawns or the player?

We hope our discussion of Propositions 34, 35, and 36 will help you when casting your vote. "[W]henever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right." - Thomas Jefferson.

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