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Philadelphia Federal Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Charges

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

Philadelphia Federal Sex Trafficking and Prostitution Charges: An Overview for Defense Lawyers

Sex trafficking and prostitution charges at the federal level are no joke in Philadelphia. As defense attorneys, it’s crucial we understand these complex laws inside and out to mount an effective defense for our clients facing allegations. This article provides an overview of key issues when handling federal sex trafficking and prostitution cases in Philadelphia—let’s dive in.

An Increase in Federal Prosecutions

Over the past decade, we’ve seen a major uptick in federal prosecutions related to sex trafficking and prostitution in Philadelphia. Cases that may have previously been handled at the state level are now ending up in federal court more frequently.

For instance, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania brought charges in 2021 against more than 15 alleged pimps and traffickers, including many high-profile FBI Innocence Lost task force cases. There’s been an explosion of prosecutions under federal laws like the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting individuals across state lines for prostitution.

The implications? As defense lawyers, we must understand these federal statutes and how prosecutors are applying them. It’s no longer sufficient to know only Pennsylvania’s prostitution and trafficking laws—we have to brush up on relevant federal laws as more cases enter the federal system.

Complex Federal Sex Trafficking Laws

Defending federal sex trafficking charges in Philadelphia requires untangling a web of complex statutes.

The backbone of most federal sex trafficking prosecutions is 18 USC § 1591. This law makes it illegal to knowingly recruit, entice, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, advertise, maintain, patronize, or solicit a minor (under 18 years old) or adult through force, fraud, or coercion to engage in a commercial sex act.

The penalties under this statute are harsh: 10 years to life imprisonment for trafficking minors and up to 20 years for trafficking adults. These severe sentences give prosecutors huge leverage in demanding plea deals.

Other key federal laws used to prosecute sex trafficking and related activities include:

  • Mann Act – prohibits transporting individuals across state lines for illegal sexual activity
  • Travel Act – prohibits interstate travel/transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises like prostitution rings
  • TVPA – provides resources to combat trafficking and outlines new trafficking crimes

The complexity of these laws combined with mandatory minimums upon conviction make federal sex trafficking cases extremely challenging for defense lawyers in Philadelphia to litigate. Thorough understanding of the specific charges is essential right out of the gate.

Sentencing Considerations and Defenses

The strict sentencing guidelines and hefty mandatory minimums for federal sex trafficking convictions make sentencing and plea negotiations especially important.

For instance, a conviction under 18 USC § 1591 for trafficking a minor starts at 10 years imprisonment. However, the sentencing guidelines provide for drastic enhancements like 2-7 years added if force or coercion was used and up to life imprisonment if the victim was under 14.

As defense attorneys, having a solid handle on potential sentencing exposures allows us to better advise clients on plea deals and trial strategy. Unique federal sentencing factors related to things like victim impact should be considered as well.

In litigation, viable defenses to federal sex trafficking charges turn on the specific elements prosecutors must prove. For adult trafficking, an common defense angle is contesting the existence of alleged force, fraud or coercion. In minor trafficking cases where coercion need not be shown, disputing knowledge of the victim’s age or the occurrence of a commercial sex act may be fruitful defense strategies.

Additionally, implicating constitutional issues like violations of the right to travel or arguing vagueness of definitions in the federal statutes could bear fruit. Creative lawyering is key.

The Takeaway

Defending against federal prostitution and sex trafficking charges in Philadelphia has grown increasingly complex given the uptick in prosecutions. As defense lawyers, having a comprehensive understanding of the applicable federal laws, sentencing guidelines, potential plea deals, and viable litigation defenses is essential to successfully representing our clients.

The stakes in these cases are sky high thanks to long mandatory minimums and sentencing enhancements. By arming ourselves with knowledge of the federal landscape around sex trafficking and prostitution, we can stand the best chance of protecting our clients rights and securing the most favorable outcomes possible.

This overview just scratches the surface—there are countless nuances when handling federal sex trafficking cases in Philadelphia. Reach out if you want to dive deeper! I’m always happy to discuss the latest developments and brainstorm creative case strategies.


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