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65 U.S. Att'ys Bull. 175 (2017)
Prosecuting Sex Trafficking Cases Using a Drug-Based Theory of Coercion

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Prosecuting Sex Trafficking Cases

Using a Drug-Based Theory of


Lindsey Roberson
Trial Attorney
Human   Trafficking Prosecution  Unit
Civil Rights Division

Shan  Patel
Trial Attorney
Human   Trafficking Prosecution  Unit
Civil Right Division

I. Introduction
       In November 2013, a federal jury in the Middle District of Florida found Andrew Blane Fields
guilty of five counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, and coercion, and three narcotics counts.' At trial,
the prosecutors presented evidence that Fields distributed controlled substances to the sex trafficking
victims as a part of his scheme to manipulate and control their drug supply in order to coerce them to
commit commercial sex acts for his profit.2 The prosecution's theory of nonviolent drug-based coercion
under 18 U.S.C. § 1591 presented a case of first impression for the court, and on appeal, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the defendant's convictions and his 405-month sentence, finding
that the trial court's explanation regarding victims with special vulnerabilities was a direct application of
the statutory definition of 'serious harm' to the facts of the case.3 This article explains why such a theory
of coercion was successful at this and similar trials. The article also includes practical tools for building
better victim identification through education, improving investigative strategies, and prevailing on
appeal in cases involving drug-based coercion.

II. Overview: Intersection of the Opioid Epidemic and Sex
       In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confirmed what many in the law
enforcement community already knew: Over the past 10 years, the drug landscape in the United States
has shifted, with the tripartite opioid threat (controlled prescription drugs, fentanyl, and heroin) having
risen to epidemic levels, impacting significant portions of the United States.4 While it is common
knowledge that many drug users ingest drugs to numb the pain, opioids are, in fact, some of the most

1 Press Release, Office of Pub. Affairs, U.S. Dep't of Justice, Convicted Sex Trafficker Sentenced to More Than 30
Years in Prison (Jan. 29, 2014).

3 United States v. Fields, 625 F. App'x 949, 952 (11th Cir. 2015).

United States Attorneys' Bulletin

November  2017


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