Massachusetts Court Affirms Anti-Human Trafficking Law

The constitutionality of a Massachusetts law that targets sex trafficking was upheld Thursday by the state's highest court, which rejected claims by two men that the statute was vague and its scope too broad.

The Supreme Judicial Court said in a unanimous opinion that the 2011 law was "sufficiently clear and definite" and did not violate the due process rights of the two men, who are believed to be the first people convicted under the statute.

In their appeal, lawyers for Tyshaun McGhee and Sidney McGee claimed the statute's language, particularly the phrase "commercial sexual activity," was unconstitutionally vague. They said the law also lacked the elements of use of force and coercion that a federal sex trafficking statute requires to establish the crime.

The two Boston men were accused of recruiting three drug-addicted women, supplying them with narcotics and coercing them to have sex with men who responded to online ads.

The law signed by then-Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick established the crime of human trafficking for sexual servitude, forced labor and organ trafficking. It increased penalties for human trafficking, and backers said they hoped it would bring a shift in law enforcement toward treating children and others who work as prostitutes as victims.

The two men, who are not related, were the first people to be convicted under the law, according to the Suffolk District Attorney's office.

The justices rejected arguments that the wording of the law was vague, saying it used commonly accepted and easily understood terms, including "commercial sexual activity," which lawyers for the defendants argued could be construed to include such things as nude dancing or adult movies.

The law forbids actions that will knowingly cause or enable another person to engage in commercial sexual activity, the court said.

"Conduct of this nature is afforded no constitutional protection," wrote Justice Francis Spina.

Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley's office, which prosecuted the case, said Thursday that since the law's passage the district attorney has adopted a so-called safe harbor policy that treats young prostitutes as victims of exploitation rather than offenders, and that the policy is now required statewide.

McGhee is serving a 10-15 year sentence in state prison; McGee a 10-12 year term. The high court said in its ruling that McGhee's sentence exceeded the allowable maximum by one day and because of that, he must be resentenced.

This article was originally published on August 13, 2015.



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