District attorneys from Orange, Riverside, San Diego and Alameda counties joined forces today to support passage of a bill aimed at sparing human trafficking victims from having to testify at multiple trials in different jurisdictions, streamlining prosecutions and saving taxpayer dollars.
SB 939 is up for a committee vote today in Sacramento. Proponents expect the bill to pass in the Senate, then move through the Assembly and on to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, said the bill was "really a no-brainer."
It mirrors a law covering domestic violence and sexual assault victims that also spares them from having to go from courtroom to courtroom throughout the state if a defendant committed crimes in multiple jurisdictions, Schroeder said.
Schroeder cited as a "perfect example," the case of Ali Achekzai, a convicted serial rapist who sexually assaulted women in Orange and San Diego counties before the Afghan native fled the country and was later tracked down in Austria.
Rackauckas has taken the lead in prosecuting a new human trafficking law, announcing last April the formation of a team dedicated to going after pimps and others who deal in the sex trade.
"It's been one of those issues that we've actually had a very good reaction from Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals," Schroeder said.
Proposition 35, which lengthened prison terms for human trafficking, was approved by 83 percent of Orange County voters in November 2012, Schroeder said.
Orange County prosecutors have won convictions every time in felony cases and about 90 percent of the time on the misdemeanor cases, Schroeder said.
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said SB 939 "would close loopholes, expand protection and spare victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation the trauma of facing their traffickers in multiple trials and re-living a nightmare in court over and over. We join our DA colleagues in sponsoring this legislation and urge its passage."
Victims of human trafficking and its related crimes are often exploited in different counties and cities across California to evade law enforcement detection and to increase profit for the perpetrators. Suspects are commonly part of organized criminal enterprises.
The bill would amend a penal code section to create a consolidated trial process for human trafficking-related offenses to mimic the prosecution of other crimes committed by serial perpetrators such as child molesters and rapists.
"Human trafficking is a heinous crime," said Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, the bill's author."Attacking the financially lucrative criminal enterprise cannot be fought one jurisdiction at a time.
"Human trafficking must be fought collectively -- pooling our resources and intelligence and multiplying the impact of every effort. That's what this bill is about."
Recent statistics show the number of cases prosecuted under state sex trafficking statutes have more than tripled over the past four years in San Diego County. Last year, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office filed human trafficking-related charges against 43 defendants in cases involving 50 victims, nine of whom were under 18.
San Diego has been identified as one the FBI's High Intensity Child Prostitution Areas.
--City News Service