Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > Record Sealing Expungement > How Florida Law Protects Victims of Human Trafficking

How Florida Law Protects Victims of Human Trafficking


In recent years, there has been increasing attention in Florida to the problem of human trafficking. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking “involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Each year, millions of people around the world are victims of human trafficking, and in many cases those victims are themselves subjected to criminal prosecution.

To address this issue, in 2013 the Florida legislature adopted Florida Statutes § 943.0583. This statute allows victims of human trafficking to seek expungement of a Florida conviction based on crimes they were forced to commit while being trafficked. The law imposes a “presumption of human trafficking victim status” when certain “official documentation” is provided to a circuit court judge. Even without such documentation, however, a judge may still grant an expungement if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the petitioner only committed their crime because they were a victim of human trafficking.

Appeals Court Orders New Hearing on Request to Expunge 2001 Drug Trafficking Conviction

Even though the law creates a strong presumption in favor of human trafficking victims, that does not mean that prosecutors and judges will not put up a fight when it comes to an expungement. The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal recently addressed such a case. In Williams v. State, a circuit court judge sided with prosecutors in refusing to expunge a 22-year-old drug trafficking conviction committed by then-teenaged victim of human trafficking.

The defendant in this case was born in Jamaica. He legally emigrated to the United States and obtained permanent resident status in 1997. While a senior in high school, a friend invited the defendant to take a trip to Jamaica. The defendant accepted.

Upon arriving in Jamaica, however, the defendant said he said a member of a local drug cartel threatened to kill him unless he agreed to swallow several capsules filled with cocaine and transport them back to Florida. The dealer then forced the defendant to comply with this demand.

After flying back to Fort Lauderdale, the defendant informed customs officials that he had been forced to carry drugs. Notwithstanding this, Florida prosecutors charged him with criminal trafficking of cocaine. The defendant pleaded guilty and served three years in prison followed by three years probation. The Department of Homeland Security later deported the defendant to Jamaica, where he was physically abused by the person who had trafficked him. The defendant later tried to re-enter the United States and was arrested. He was subsequently able to rebuild his life in the United States.

In 2018, the defendant filed a petition under Section 943.0583 to expunge the record of his 2001 drug trafficking conviction. The state opposed the petition claiming the defendant was not eligible for an expunction. The circuit court denied the petition, but it did so based on applying the wrong statute. The defendant then filed an amended petition. A different circuit judge held a new hearing but again denied the petition.

On appeal, the Fourth District said the trial court “failed to afford the defendant the statutory presumption” that he was a victim of human trafficking. The appellate court noted that any “reasonable review of this record” showed the defendant only committed the original drug offense “as a human trafficking victim.” Indeed, his original plea agreement was based on the fact he was a minor who had acted under duress. So the defendant was entitled to reconsideration of his expunction petition the correct assumption applied.

Contact the Josh Law Firm

Even if you are not a victim of human trafficking, there are other circumstances where you may be able to seek the sealing or expungement of your Florida criminal record. Our experienced Orlando sealing & expungement attorneys can review your case and advise you of your options. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, P.A., today at (407) 661-1009 or contact us online to schedule a free initial consultation.



Facebook Twitter LinkedIn