Wilson shares his fight against human trafficking and CDV in SC
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Human trafficking is spreading rapidly in the United States, and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is working hard to eradicate it.
Wilson visited Hartsville to meet with S.C. Senator Gerald Malloy and Speaker of the House of Representatives Jay Lucas on Friday, January 2, 2015 and agreed to share his upcoming work on increasing pressure against criminals involved in human trafficking, revamping charges for criminal domestic violence.
He also shared progress on ethics reform at the state’s legislative branches in Columbia.
“We have a human trafficking problem up and down the coast,” said Wilson. “It’s not limited to just the coast, but I-95 as you know is a corridor up and down the eastern seaboard so it’s easy traffic for that type of activity.”
Wilson met with Sen. Malloy and Speaker Lucas about various issues, including giving the state Grand Jury the ability to go after human traffickers in the same manner as drug traffickers.
“This is the first bill I want to get past this year, because it is so easy,” said Wilson. “It is just giving the Grand Jury the jurisdiction to do what is already authorized to do under criminal law, to use the Grand Jury as a tool.”
The impetus to move quickly on this is imperative, according to Wilson, because the trade of women and children in the underground world of the sex trade is increasing in alarming rates nationally, as well as here in South Carolina.
“I met with a Charleston area police detective that primarily focuses on human trafficking type investigations, and he made a comment to me, ‘Alan, I can stop finding human traffickers. They are everywhere’- some are small time, kind of the ‘pimp-prostitute’ situation where they are kind of forcing a woman or a child into some type of sexual servitude, then there are others that are far more sophisticated,” said Wilson. “And so we as a state, as a people, have got to ratchet up our game and put the tools and resources together. This is modern day slavery.”
A planned press event for January 6th [Ed. note; after our paper goes to the printers] where Wilson will have that investigator, Detective Charlie Benton of the North Charleston Police Department with him, along with members of the legislature to call on the General Assembly to give the Grand Jury the jurisdiction to go after human traffickers with a new provision in an existing law.
When asked how fast this could be passed, Wilson replied, “I’d love to have this bill passed in about a week.”
The turnaround would be so rapid because it’s not a brand new law.
“The state Grand Jury can only do certain things,” said Wilson, showing the existing law with the proposed addition. “It now can do 12 things, including investigations, limited to the following crime involving narcotics, gang activity, public corruption, violation of election laws, terrorism, securities fraud, crime involving obscenity, making false statements involving immigration, and some other things, “said Wilson. “And we want to add #13 to the 10-page bill, 16-3-20-20:
‘Crime involving or relating to the offense of trafficking human persons as defined by16-3-20-20 when a victim is trafficked in more than one county or a trafficker commits the offense of trafficking a person in more than one county’
“All we are doing is adding one sentence, to give the Grand Jury the ability to investigate. This – we are just saying, in order to investigate right now we can investigate human trafficking, regular, but the State Grand Jury can go in multiple counties.”
Wilson went on to describe that just as how regular consumers live, work and shop in other areas, drug dealers and human traffickers rarely stay in one county.
“This allows us to go in multi-counties, and multiple jurisdictions, and tin more than one county at a time and use subpoena powers to go after these thugs,” said Wilson.
“This is not a lot, it’s just one sentence, but it’s a powerful sentence. We have active investigations running now, and once we get the Grand Jury up and running we’re really going to hit it hard.”
As reported by various federal agencies, large sporting events such as the Super Bowl are known for high incidences of human trafficking in the United States.
When asked if that is true for South Carolina, Wilson shook his head; “I firmly believe you don’t need a big activity to have a lot of human trafficking going on. We are going to hit it hard. We have law enforcement on board; we have a guy in Charleston that cannot keep up. He needs the Grand Jury desperately.”
In area such as Darlington County, the pattern of trafficking can follow the route from the coast, to and from Charlotte, and up and down Interstate 20 through multiple counties.
“Right now we see kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct, all these cases that have the same aspects as human trafficking but it’s hard to put it all together because of the multiple jurisdictions,” said Wilson. “The problem with a human trafficking ring is you are not going to have just one jurisdiction. It may be many counties together. We need a collaborative relationship between SLED, and multiple law enforcement working under the Grand Jury. Our office would run these investigations, and provide the staffing and support to allow the front line law enforcement to do their investigations. They would go out and find them, and we would present it to the Grand Jury and ultimately prosecute if there is an indictment made.”
The sentences for human trafficking are up to 30 years imprisonment.
Criminal Domestic Violence (CDV):
Regarding South Carolina’s Sen. Martin that recently proposed taking gun ownership away from men convicted of CDV, Wilson says that there is an underlying issue that takes precedence;
“It’s already against federal law, other states are already doing it, and Martin took the exact same language that Louisiana passed,” said Wilson.
“But, let me back up from that gun provision issue, because the gun provision is important but for me, holistically speaking, when a prosecutor in law enforcement case- someone commits an offense against their spouse or live-in boyfriend or girlfriend, when they get charged with CDV- Criminal Domestic Violence, the way the law is currently written, you have a 0 – 30 day offense, which first offence or you have a CDV HAN, which is Criminal Domestic Violence of High and Aggravated Nature. 1 – 10 year felony,” Wilson continues.
“Depending on the type of harm, the choice is a 0-30 day conviction, or a 1-10 year felony. That’s like, if you are playing a game of golf, like using a putter and driver. They are both tools, but there are a lot of hits in the middle on the fairway. I believe the same is true of this bill; you have a 1- 10-year, and then 0-30 days on the other side. It’s not fair to the victim, the defendant, and it’s not fair to the criminal justice system and sometimes not fair to the prosecutor. So we are going to completely revamp the tiered system; instead of going from 1st, 2nd and 3rd offenses and basing the level on the offense based on the number of times law enforcement is called out, base it on the level of harm committed against the victim. So, we are going to ask that the CDV HAN be a 0 – 20 year offense., Domestic Violence 1st Degree would be great bodily injury occurs, 0 – 10 years. Those two are felonies. The next would be Domestic Violence 2nd Degree, which is a 0 – 3 year misdemeanor. Domestic Violence 3rd Degree, which is a 0 – 90 day, we have several version; one is 0 – 90 day, one is 0 – 6 months. But what it does, is give the prosecutor the ability to tier the levels of harm.”
“Anybody that commits a domestic violence act and they do it with someone they know or should have known is pregnant, or do it in the presence of a minor child in the house, or try to prevent the person from calling for help, automatically bumps it up to the next level. So if a man commits an offense against his wife and it’s in the presence of their 6 year old, normally he would be charged with second degree, he could be charged with 1st Degree because it was done in front of the presence of a child. Because, if you think about it, culturally if little boys grow up seeing Daddy beating Mama they think it ‘s normal to beat your spouse. Little girls see Mama get beat by Daddy, they think it’s normal to get beat. It normalizes the behavior from the giving to the taking of it,” he said. “We want to send a signal; we want to codify our values as a society and say we are not going to tolerate that. These are some of the things I am really strong on and making sure we get implemented first and foremost.”
Wilson would also like to implement zero tolerance for people who are repeating offenses.
“If you have committed within the last five years another domestic violence crime you are automatically can be prosecuted for 1st Degree Domestic Violence; even if it was a 3rd Degree harm, if you have been convicted once in the last five years, or twice in the last ten years, no matter how light the harm is, you are automatically eligible to be prosecuted for 1st Degree Domestic Violence.”
“It will send a signal,” said Wilson. “These are things we need to do. SC is on the bottom of the good lists, and at the top of all the bad lists; I truly believe we have got to have our laws reflect our values. We live in a state where you can beat your wife and get 30 days in jail, or beat your dog and get 5 years in prison; don’t get me wrong, I’m all for putting you away for beating your dog, but, we are talking about a human being. Our laws need to reflect our values.
Wilson went on to say that he feels gun provisions could be helpful, but wants to see at the tiered system of elevated the penalties that reflect the harm be addressed first.
“I know a lot of people will want to debate the gun provisions,” said Wilson. “And I think they should be debated and should be considered But what’s most important to me now is I giving prosecutors and law enforcement the tools to apply the right amount of justice to the right fact pattern.”
After that, he hopes to look into no contact orders, and violation of the bonds, and the gun provisions, which is already federal law and already in effect in majority of other states across the nation.
‘I’m in favor of anything that curbs violence,” said Wilson. “I also respect Second Amendment rights. There are some people out there that they are really one action away from killing somebody. At the same time, there are some cases where domestic cases are abused, where there may be no true harm, with a push or a shove in a drunken fight and it’s a race to get to the phone. It meets the true definition of domestic violence. Some would opt to do PTI and yet can no longer go hunting. And these are people that would never harm another human. We have to be smart on how we apply the law. But absolutely, if someone is capable of shooting their spouse or loved one, does not need to have a firearm. Now, the crime is based on the number of times, not the level of harm.”
Wilson added that he would like to put treatment programs into place for the batters as well as the victims.
“We’ve got to do more than just be punitive,” said Wilson. “We’ve got to make sure we are curbing recidivism, but also to cure the batterer as much as the victim. The batterer needs to be in a batterers treatment program. We need to make sure that people are not being pled out of a domestic violence charge into an assault charge- because then they are not getting into he batters treatment program. I’d like to see peo0le going through those programs and getting the treatment they need to deal with these issues. There are other things out there besides penalties that we’ve got to be looking at.”
A hot topic in South Carolina has been ethics reform, and Wilson has made this part of his third goal for 2015.
“Regarding ethics reform, there are two things that are most important for me,” said Wilson. “I am not going to propose anything specific, only to say that no body should have any influence over any entity that investigates them. So, if you are in the House or the Senate, you should not have any influence over the House or Senate ethics committee- any degree of influence, whatsoever – not over the staff, the elected officials there, and that has not always been the case recently, as you know. If you are like me, the Attorney General, I should have absolutely no say whatsoever over how the Ethic Commission investigates me, if I should be investigated. I think all of us elected officials, should be fed off the same spoon.”
He continues, “The House committee has all these advisory opinions, on what you can and can’t do with campaign funds, you have the Senate committee that has different opinions, and then the Ethics Commission that has their own opinions- so you have three different ethics committees giving opinions on three different kinds of conduct, so all of us are living on standards. I think we all need to be held under one standard, and we all need to be investigated under by one, third party independent entity; that’s number one – independent investigative ability with no influence from any elected officials, that’s what I want to support.”
The second thing he’d like to see for ethics reform in South Carolina is also timely:
“Number two, I don’t think we need to decriminalize any components of the Ethics Act. The reason I believe that is because in order for us to prosecute you for a criminal investigation, we have to prove that you knowingly violated the law, meaning that you knew you were violating the law and you did it willingly, neither inadvertently nor accidentally. For lay people, lets say you have an elected official that for Christmas buys his wife a laptop. He does so, and says, “she does all my campaign record keeping, she does all my filing, we travel around the district together, we get contributions and she’s got to keep up with all that- they justify in their mind that the campaign should pay for that laptop – this is just a random example. Person ally, I think it looks bad. But, I would not prosecute that person because I can’t prove that they knew they were in violation of the law event though technically it was against the law. Now, if I find out that they forged an invoice from a vendor to cover that up, or someone overheard them say they were going to find a way to fleece their campaign account, and there is a third party witness or we find a forged document that proves they knew what they were doing was wrong, and did it anyway and tried to over it up, that is what is criminal. You can’t prosecute people for accidents. You can’t even prosecute for misunderstanding the law. We have former elected officials that recently left office that claim that they’ve never done anything wrong? I can tell you this right now; every single elected we’ve been involved in the investigation of, we can prove there was lying, there was cheating, there was stealing, we can prove it. There is no misunderstanding; we don’t prosecute mistakes, we don’t prosecute misunderstandings, we don’t prosecute ‘oopsies’- we prosecute you when we know and we can prove that you knew you when you knew were doing was wrong but you did it anyway,” tapping his finger to emphasize his point.
“And that is a very high standard,” continued Wilson.
“The Ethics Commission can fine you for buying your wife a laptop – it’s a civil slap on the wrist. But when you are prosecuted for misunderstanding the law, it’s because you knew the law you still violated it.
As far as what newly elected Speaker Lucas is addressing at the House for ethics reform, Wilson is pleased.
“I met with Sen. Malloy and Speaker Lucas, and I am proud of him. I think anytime you bring stakeholders from all over- getting input from all sides, I think It’s a good thing he’s doing. One of things he’s helping me do, is we have some Grand Jury reforms –not county, but state grand jury- there is some reforms that would help buttress the independence of the State Grand Jury so it could not be influenced or not even any perception of undue influence of the court or by an elected powerful official.
Recently on a high profile grand jury case, we basically had to close the case because of the perceived influence on it, and we had to go to a county grand jury. We have gotten some reforms I’ve given Speaker Lucas and others, and sat down with Senator Malloy and talked about it with him. The people have to believe whether you are investigating someone for an ethics violation or investigating them with the Grand Jury, that those entities are independent; the people need to believe that those entities are not capable of being influenced by a judge, or by a powerful politician. And the laws we are trying to get passed on the Grand Jury are going to do that. It’s going to allow the Grand Jury to allow the State to conduct investigations without any undue influence on the investigation pre-indictment. Obviously, once there is an indictment, due process kicks in, the court system, all the protections of the Constitution are there for the accused, but, there have been times in the past year where before there was not even an indictment people were trying to shut down the investigation- and being met with some success.”
“The proposals I’m making are going to address that, and prevent that from happening again.”
“Speaker Lucas was even talking about having the Grand Jury propose a part of the entire Ethics Package, which I loved.”
This would be helpful to the AG office in many ways.
“Whether you are being investigated by the Ethics Committee or Commission, or the Grand Jury, the entities cannot be influenced by a powerful force or figure. Whether it is the Speaker, or a judge, or the Pro Tem of the Senate, or an Attorney General, or a dog catcher, whatever- the way the House and the Senate Committees are designed, is that the people that serve on those, while they are elected by their peers, all the staff works for one person. Everyone in the House works for the Speaker. The Speaker controls the appointments of the House Ethics Committee.
“I want to give a shout-out to Speaker Lucas, I applauded him. He recommended that the Speaker ought to have a limit to the number of terms they can be Speaker. The Governor has to leave after two terms, but the other two branches of government, the Speaker and the Pro-Tem of the Senate, they can serve there for decades. The Chief Justice of the Sate Supreme Court runs and only has to get 63 votes in the General Assembly and they get to run an entire branch of government for a decade before they have to come up for reelection.”
“We need to have a more transparent government and justice system here in South Carolina,” said Wilson. “South Carolina deserves that.”
To learn more about the office of the Attorney General, residents of South Carolina are encouraged to follow his website: www.scag.gov.
Contact numbers include:
Violence Against Women Program: 1-803-734-3717
Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-32-CHILD (1-800-322-4453)
Insurance Fraud Hotline: 1-888-95-FRAUD (1-888-953-7283)
Medicaid Fraud Toll Free Hotline: 1-803-734-3660 (1-888-662-4328)
Victim Assistance Program: 1-800-213-5652
Youth Mentoring Program 1-803-734-4746