Let's begin with a premise on which all civilized people should be able to agree: trafficking in human beings for the purposes of selling sex or forced labor is a disgusting abomination that should be illegal.
Thankfully, there are laws on the books in California and at the federal level that make both things illegal.
Proposition 35 on the November ballot would expand some of the definitions of human trafficking in those California laws and would increase the fines and penalties for engaging in such illegal conduct.
Given the thesis statement above, this should be an easy call. A no-brainer, if you will. After all, who could be against increasing penalties on pimps and human trafficking profiteers? Certainly no one on this editorial board is against that.
The part that gives us pause, however, is that the drafters of the proposition have reached very broadly in their quest to bring these creeps to justice. In so doing, we believe that in two cases they have come dangerously close to overreach.
The first troubling part of the proposition is that the definition of the crime has been expanded so broadly that, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office, it makes duplicating and selling obscene materials depicting minors a form of human trafficking. It is disgusting and wrong, but there are laws on the books against it, and to us it is not the same as human trafficking.
The second troubling aspect of the proposition is that it attempts to limit the defenses that can be used by attorneys representing those charged with human trafficking crimes. That strikes us as being of questionable constitutional merit and will likely be grounds for challenge.
But, as we have said before, in California these days legal challenge to a ballot proposition is nearly a given and voters should not be intimidated or dissuaded by that threat.
Even in light of our stated reservations, we still find ourselves moved to support Prop. 35. The proposition increases the penalties for human trafficking and it severely increases those penalties for repeat offenders.
The penalty for labor trafficking would increase from five years in prison to 12 years in prison. For forcible adult sex trafficking, the penalty would increase from the current five years to 20 years. For forced sex trafficking with a minor the penalty would increase from eight years to a life term.
The proposition also establishes a tough penalty for sex trafficking of minors without the use of force or coercion. Incredibly, there is not now a specific penalty for such action, but this proposition would set the penalty at 12 years. Much like the state's current statutory rape standard, the proposition establishes that it does not matter whether the perpetrator knew that the victim was under 18.
Prop. 35 also requires convicted human sex traffickers, i.e. pimps, to register as sex offenders. We find all of that entirely appropriate.
Human trafficking is morally wrong and is unacceptable in our free society. The people of California should make that clear by voting yes on Proposition 35.