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Officials Investigating Criminal Charges Related To Capsized Vessel In South Florida


After a three-day search, the US Coast Guard made the difficult decision to suspend efforts to locate survivors who were onboard a vessel that capsized between South Florida and Bimini. Local 10 News covered the story in a January 27, 2022 article, which mentioned that there were 40 individuals aboard the 25-foot boat and none of them was wearing life jackets. One man survived by clinging to the vessel, and authorities reported that it was unlikely there would be others found alive. The circumstances and statements from the lone survivor suggest criminal activity, and officials have already launched an investigation into a potential human trafficking operation.

Authorities continue to assess whether to file criminal charges, but the story highlights how they will aggressively pursue those that violate human trafficking laws. The penalties can be extremely harsh, so retaining a Florida criminal defense attorney is critical. However, an overview of the laws is useful.

Definition of Human Trafficking in Florida 

This crime is considered modern day slavery, when an offender abducts or lures another into sexual exploitation or forced labor for financial gain. Under the state statute, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant:

  • Received something of value for transporting, recruiting, enticing, or soliciting another person;
  • Exploited the victim for labor, sexual activity, or other services; and
  • Acted knowingly or with reckless disregard of relevant facts.

Impact of the Victim’s Age 

Note that the age of the victim is important in a human trafficking case. When the victim is an adult, the prosecution must show coercion. The standard is different for a child under 18 years old, who might not be mature enough to recognize coercion. As such, it may be sufficient to convict when the prosecutor shows exploitation without proof that the alleged offender coerced a minor victim.

Though the statute uses the term “solicitation,” it does NOT apply to the common prostitution-solicitation case. The point is whether the victim had been coerced or exploited. An offender may still face charges, but parties on both sides of the transaction would face misdemeanor charges. Of course, prostitution involving a minor is far more serious offense. 

Penalties for a Conviction 

Human trafficking is always a felony, but the exact sentence varies according to the circumstances. Therefore:

  • The basic crime of human trafficking is a First Degree Felony. For a conviction, a judge must order at least 21 months in prison, but could issue a sentence up to 30 years’ incarceration.
  • When the victim is a child or person with a mental disability, human trafficking is a Life Felony. The mandatory minimum is 5 years’ imprisonment, but a defendant could spend life behind bars.

A Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Will Advise You on Options

For more information on fighting human trafficking charges, please contact Linkhorst & Hockin, P.A. to speak to a member of our team. You can call 561-626-8880 or visit our website to set up a consultation at our offices in Jupiter, FL. An experienced attorney will explain the laws and potential defenses after assessing your situation.


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