SB206/HB242 Easing Ability to Vacate Offenses Related to Human Trafficking

Bill Title:Criminal Procedure – Motion to Vacate Judgment – Human Trafficking (True Freedom Act of 2020)

Bill Number(s): SB206/HB242

Bill Sponsor(s): Delegate Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-13, Howard County), Senator Susan C. Lee (D-16, Montgomery County)

Position: Support

Legislative History:

  • HB0242 has passed both chambers and was referred to governor.
  • SB0206 Passed senate (44-0) and currently on third reading in House of Delegates with favorable recommendations for House Judiciary Committee.

What will this bill do? 

This bill would remedy significant legal gaps in existing vacatur laws by expanding the post-conviction relief available to survivors of human trafficking, including many LGBT survivors, who are already recognized as lacking the criminal intent to commit the crimes they were convicted of.

Why is this important? 

Traffickers frequently target marginalized populations and individuals with particular vulnerabilities. Studies have shown that LGBT homeless youth are at the highest risk for sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to the U.S. National Coalition for the Homeless (www.nationalhomeless.org), homeless LGBT youth are much more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking than other homeless youths. For instance, only 20 percent of homeless youth are LGBT in the United States, and 58.7 percent of them are exploited through sexual prostitution. This is a much higher rate than the 33.4 percent of heterosexual homeless youth that are at risk of sexual exploitation on the street. Indeed, in 2017 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 80 cases of trafficking involving gender minorities.

Maryland’s existing law has proved inadequate in meeting the needs of Maryland’s survivors, the majority of whom have trafficking-related convictions other than prostitution, such as trespassing and drug possession. Maryland’s law also does not expressly include survivors of labor trafficking, who are similarly convicted of crimes they were forced to commit. Additionally, Maryland is one of only two states in the country requiring the consent of the agency that prosecuted the victim before the victim can file a vacatur request.

Data recently obtained from a national survey of both sex and labor trafficking survivors echoes the need for access to broader relief, with 91% of survivors reported being arrested during the time they were being trafficked, the majority for crimes other than prostitution. Of those surveyed, 73% reported barriers to employment because of their criminal records, while 58% reported barriers to accessing housing.

Criminalized survivors of trafficking suffer if they are unable to obtain such relief, as they too struggle with being unable to obtain safe housing and gainful employment. These consequences carry with them the additional risk of continued exploitation by a trafficker or the inability to exit the commercial sex trade. Survivors who were unjustly convicted of forced criminal activity deserve better in our state.