Following is written testimony presented for hearings held March 8 and 10, 2016, in favor of expanding Maryland’s “vacating convictions” law, as it related to human trafficking:
As a service provider for survivors of child sex trafficking and a member of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, we know that too often victims continue to be criminalized as a result of being forced to engage in various activities for the financial benefit of their traffickers. This criminal record produces continued obstacles in obtaining employment, housing, education, and other critical services to full recovery and successful reintegration into mainstream society.
These obstacles for survivors of trafficking keep them trapped in poverty and vulnerable to continued exploitation, with them the additional risk of continued exploitation by a trafficker or the inability to exit the commercial sex trade. Survivors who were unjustly convicted of forced criminal activity deserve better.
This is why it is so important to expand Maryland’s “vacating convictions” law through the passage of SB 866 / HB 623. In 2011, Maryland led the way, becoming the second state in the country to enact such a law, but we have learned much since that early action
Over the past four years, Maryland’s vacatur law has proved inadequate in meeting the needs of Maryland’s survivors, the majority of whom have trafficking-related convictions other than prostitution, such as trespassing and drug possession. Additionally, Maryland is one of only two states in the country requiring the consent of the agency that prosecuted the victim before the victim can file a vacatur request.
SB 866 / HB 623 would remedy these significant legal gaps by expanding the post-conviction relief available to survivors of human trafficking who are already recognized as lacking the criminal intent to commit the crimes they were convicted of.
It is critical that we not only increase the number of convictions eligible for vacatur under MD Crim. Pro § 8-302, but also expand the impact of the law by explicitly including labor trafficking survivors, as well.
Araminta Freedom Initiative supports this bill because it will enhance the effectiveness of Maryland’s human trafficking framework by improving access to justice for survivors who have been criminalized as a result of their involvement with a trafficker.