Ten men from ages 23 to 68 now face long prison terms after a monthslong, multiagency investigation based in Houston County.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Human Exploitation and Trafficking Unit (GBI HEAT), Perry Police Department, Houston County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Motor Carrier Compliance Division, and the Houston County District Attorney’s Office participated in the investigation.
“The goal of Operation Southern Comfort was to reduce the demand by identifying and bringing in commercial sex buyers and drawing in commercial sex workers to offer them services,” a GBI news release stated. “The objective was to identify and arrest pimps and human traffickers through this two-fold approach.”
Nine individuals face misdemeanor sex crime charges. Another individual had an outstanding warrant.
Most misdemeanor criminal investigations aren’t investigations at all. Usually, one witness, the arresting officer, provides all testimony, since s/he heard and saw the whole thing. Occasionally, a second witness, like an alleged victim in an assault or a Drug Recognition Expert (DER) in a DUI-drug case, supplement the arresting officer’s testimony.
In contrast, most felony trafficking cases, like drug and sex trafficking cases, are multi-stage investigations. These stages usually include:
- Identify the Scene: Violent crime scenes include alleys and houses. Officers must establish a perimeter that’s large enough to include all physical evidence, like a discarded weapon. Prostitution and sex trafficking crimes usually don’t have crime scenes. So, investigators begin at a disadvantage.
- Create and Broadcast a Plan: This step is relatively straightforward in violent criminal cases. Most investigators are at the scene. This step is very complex in multi-agency investigations. Many investigators aren’t in the same location, or even in the same ZIP code. Communication problems and inter-agency rivalries plague many investigations.
- Collect, Document, and Preserve Evidence: Physical evidence is rare in a sex trafficking case. Instead, surveillance footage and witness statements constitute most of the evidence. Camera footage is inadmissible in court unless the state lays a proper foundation of evidence. Frequently, witnesses are paid informants or other individuals with possible biases.
- Do It Again: Most investigators skip this step altogether, especially in the late stages of an investigation when they’re anxious to make an arrest. To many jurors, police officers who don’t verify evidence and move deliberately look sloppy and inefficient.
A mistake at any point compromises the investigation’s results. If that happened, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer almost always obtains a positive result. The defendant doesn’t have to “prove” anything. The defendant must only create a reasonable doubt as to the evidence.
Possible Sex Crime Punishments
The law treats sex offenders differently, and so does society. Direct punishments for sex offense cases are much harsher than the punishments for other similar offenses. Additionally, to most people, sex offenders are homogenous. Defendants who pay adults for sex are just as bad as defendants who sexually assault children.
Georgia law breaks down into basically five categories of sex offenses. As mentioned, these offenses have harsh consequences. These offenses also have terrible-sounding names.
- Sodomy: Yes. Georgia still has a sodomy law on the books. The Supreme Court has ruled that such laws are illegal, but the Justices didn’t specifically overturn these laws. Therefore, officials could still arrest individuals for consensual sodomy and drag them through the criminal justice process.
- Sexual Battery: Ordinary sexual battery is physically touching “intimate parts” without consent. Aggravated sexual battery is using a “foreign object” to penetrate another person’s anus or sex organ, once again without consent.
- Improper Sexual Contact: As a matter of law, people of any age cannot consent to sex with a foster parent, teacher, parent, doctor, and a few other categories of people. Sexual contact is a second-degree felony and sexually explicit contact is a first-degree felony.
- Statutory Rape: This umbrella term includes sexual intercourse, child molestation, aggravated child molestation, and child enticement. Lesser punishment might apply if the defendant and alleged victim were close together in age. Sixteen is the age of consent in Georgia.
- Rape: Carnal knowledge (penetrating the female sex organ with the male sex organ) of a female forcibly and against her will or a female who is less than 10 years of age could mean a life sentence in Georgia.
Consent is a nebulous concept that’s difficult to define, at least for now. In 2014, California passed a “yes means yes” consent law. So, instead of proving the alleged victim didn’t say no, a defense lawyer must prove the alleged victim did say yes. That’s a subtle but important difference. So far, other states haven’t followed suit, but it’s a trend we’re following closely.
Alert readers will notice that the defendant has the burden of proof on consent and other affirmative defenses, whereas the state has the burden pf proof most everywhere else.
One final note in this area. Rape cases don’t hold up in court unless the defendant acted forcibly and against the alleged victim’s will. Force usually means physical force.
Getting Off the Sex Offender List in GA
We mentioned the public’s view of sex offenders above. Therefore, after a case ends, getting an individual off the sex offender list is usually a Marietta criminal defense lawyer’s top priority.
This process begins during sentencing, when the SORB (Georgia’s Sex Offender Registration Review Board) classifies the defendant as a Level I, II, or III offender. The lower the level, the easier it is to get off the sex offender list. The waiting period is shorter for Level I offenders. Level III offenders (sexual predators) usually have criminal records.
Next, when the defendant files a petition for removal, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer must establish the following:
- No other convictions for sexual offenses,
- No evidence the petitioner has committed similar crimes,
- A weapon was not used during the crime,
- The victim did not suffer intentional physical harm,
- The victim was not physically restrained, and
- The victim was not transported to another location.
Judges usually deny petitions if the defendant only meets the minimum qualifications. Judges usually grant these petitions if the defendant’s probation officer agrees with it, or at least does not contest it, a disability, like drug addiction or a poor environment, contributed to the offense, and the defendant has overcome than disability.
Sex crimes have serious consequences. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal defense attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we start working for you.