June 09, 2017
In a case of first impression, attorneys in Weil’s Miami office secured an order from a Florida state court expunging the convictions of a victim of human trafficking under Florida’s human trafficking victim expunction statute.
Our client was trafficked by two men, including one of Florida’s most notorious traffickers, during her early twenties. In addition to forced prostitution, vicious beatings, and emotional abuse, our client was forced to recruit other women to enter into the organization as the trafficker’s “bottom” – a victim who was forced to victimize other women. Supervised by partner Edward Soto and with assistance from co-counsel The Legal Aid Society of New York, Litigation associates Lauren Alexander and Brian Liegel represented the client in her petition for expunction of felony and misdemeanor convictions based on actions taken while under the control of her trafficker.
The Weil team submitted a lengthy application and presented live witness and expert testimony at a hearing on the petition. In a published opinion, the court granted our client’s petition to expunge her convictions. The case is particularly significant because our client is the first human trafficking “bottom” to receive expunction in Florida, and based on available records likely the first nationwide.
The Weil team worked for more than a year in preparing the petition and briefing this issue of first impression. During that time, our client continued to be rejected from jobs in the culinary industry, for which she was well qualified, and educational opportunities, simply because of her criminal record. As the court recognized: our client “with the assistance of benefactors including her present counsel, has made commendable efforts and commendable progress in putting her past behind her and building her life anew. The scarlet letter with which she feels branded should be removed.” With this relief, our client will be able to move forward with her life free from her traffickers.
This case is one of several human trafficking victim expunction cases that attorneys in Weil’s Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York offices are working on to provide similar relief to victims of human trafficking across the country. Approximately 700,000 people are trafficked internationally every year. In addition to being a hub for international sex trafficking, South Florida is also a hotbed for sex trafficking of United States citizens, over 70% of whom are adult victims.