Human trafficking is a crime that occurs in every state, some more than others. Unfortunately, Michigan (and in particular West Michigan) has come under the radar for being ranked second in the U.S. for trafficking, a statistic that isn’t accurate according to Michigan State Police. MSP claims there has been a “significant increase” in human trafficking in the state, however whether Michigan experiences more of this offense than other states similar in size is a debatable topic. sad-silhouette-1080946-m

According to Michigan Department of Health & Human Services human trafficking is the second most common criminal offense in the state behind drug crimes. What is human trafficking? Simply stated, it’s controlling victims using fraud, coercion or force for the purpose of participating in labor services or commercial sexual exploitation against the victim’s will. Sometimes referred to as human sex trafficking or simply sex trafficking when the victim is coerced or forced to engage in the commercial sex industry, this crime is viewed by many as a type of modern-day slavery.

Michigan State Police claim the FBI ranks the state 10th in the nation for human trafficking; this ranking is based on the arrest data police agencies across the U.S. submit to the FBI. Others claim that Michigan is #2 right behind Nevada, with up to 150 young females in Michigan taken into sex slavery on a monthly basis. Who do we believe, and what is the truth?

While this may come as a shock to some, about 25% of teenagers admit to “sexting” which is the sharing of messages, videos or images that are sexually explicit, according to a recent study and subsequent report published in JAMA Pediatrics. Given the popularity of social media platforms today, this has become a huge issue for parents and teens alike, given that sexting can result in legal consequences – and many teenagers don’t realize they could be committing a crime, or if they do, don’t think it’s something serious enough to worry about. iStock_000070295557_Large-2-300x200

Snapchat, Burn Note and Omegle are a few of the dozens of apps parents should be aware of, apps often used by teens to converse with people they know, and more frightening, those they don’t. Our society is one in which the majority of teens have a smart phone, and while they’re great when it comes to helping parents keep up with their kids or in case of an emergency, it’s important to realize that teens do things parents are often completely unaware of such as sending intimate photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend, or sharing videos or explicit photos of someone they know at school or even those who are complete strangers.

Many parents aren’t aware of the fact that some apps such as Snapchat allow the user to set a timer so that any nude or sexually explicit photos or videos disappear at a certain time. Teenagers’ interest in sex and nudity is certainly nothing new; in fact, you probably recall your own curiosity when you were a teen. It’s natural, however unfortunately today’s society is far different from that of 20 years ago. Teens who participate in texting or sharing data of a sexually explicit nature could find themselves in legal hot water.

“Familial DNA” is a topic that has come to the attention of many who had never heard of the term until recently when the Golden State Killer, an alleged murderer and serial rapist, was arrested by California authorities who had used the DNA of former policeman Joseph James DeAngelo’s family members to track him down.

Currently there are several states that have protocols in place to use familial DNA in criminal cases. These include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. iStock_000015311791_Full-2-300x200

How does familial DNA work in tracking criminal suspects?

NassarCourtJumpsuit

Larry Nassar

Today was a big day in the world of criminal law. A hero to many was convicted of a crime that the media focused on and the story is trending across Facebook and Twitter of Bill Cosby being deemed guilty of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. While many in the #MeToo movement are celebrating a victory, we have to take a step back and analyze just where the future of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) is heading and we have to ask if those accused are facing conviction before the complaint has even been drawn up? We will discuss 3 different situations and break down the concept with commentary and a study of the situation.

I: Bill Cosby

With a verdict of guilty in the Bill Cosby case, legal pundits across the country are faced with a decision of whether the outcome was one that was just or one that was the product of outrage on social media? The Cosby decision leads many to wonder if the famed comedian and actor was a victim of his own fame or someone that truly deserved the punishment that will be dealt out at sentencing. In any event, the Cosby decision is one that is filled with controversy and will have a profound affect the legal community. How the judicial system and social media will continue to co-exist is a matter of pure speculation but one that needs to be addressed and this article will attempt to do so.

RTX5GCYR-1200x800-1024x683

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

There is no question that the “#MeToo” Movement has left a resounding mark on those in the criminal defense sector and the state of Michigan has come to the forefront with accusations of criminal assault on the rise. To review the Cosby case and to discuss the impact felt across the state of Michigan, we sat down with leaders in the criminal law sector to gather their thoughts on the issue.

Some offenders who are convicted of sex crimes truly do commit horrendous acts; others may be found guilty regardless of whether they committed the crime based on testimony or weak evidence rather than scientific or “concrete” evidence. Even more, some may commit an offense that compared to others is relatively minor, such as indecent exposure. Unfortunately, the majority of residents in Michigan and other states think of those who are on the sex offender registry as “predators,” monsters who prey on others for sexual purposes at every opportunity. iStock_000000341623_Large-2-300x200

There are three tiers on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry which essentially categorizes those convicted of sex crimes into those who were convicted of less serious crimes to those convicted of the most severe sex offenses. Tier I is the least serious, with Tier III reserved for the most violent or serious offenders. Depending on the severity of the crime, a person may be classified a Tier II offender, which means his or her name will remain on the sex offender registry for 25 years, accessible on the Internet by all who are interested. In the case of someone classified a Tier III offender, anyone can find that person on the public sex offender registry for a life time. Information including address, name, place of employment, vehicle information, criminal offense, and photo of the offender may be available for anyone who wishes to access.

The fact is that being placed on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry can be life-changing, and not in a positive way. Those who are registered must inform authorities of every address or employment change. Neighbors are alerted to the fact a sex offender lives in their neighborhood or community. You can imagine the social stigma those who are placed on the sex offender registry face, regardless of the underlying circumstances that led to a person being on the registry. People are quick to jump to conclusions, thinking someone who is listed on the registry must have committed a horrendous crime and is a serious threat to everyone who lives in the neighborhood. It’s a stigma that never goes away, even for those lucky enough to escape listing after a quarter of a century.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to accuse someone of sexual assault in today’s society. Many who accuse others of sexual assault do so when they aren’t clear on what actually occurred due to the fact they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or simply made wrongful allegations out of spite or revenge. iStock_000000182036XSmall-300x224

Recently a Roman Catholic priest in Northern Michigan was found not guilty by a jury of allegedly sexually assaulting another priest. According to news reports, Reverend Sylvestre Obwaka was acquitted of sexually assaulting another priest who testified in court that while visiting Obwaka and spending a night in Rogers City at the rectory at St. Ignatius Church, he was sexually assaulted by the priest. Obwaka did not deny sexual contact, however he did maintain the consensual sex took place following a night of drinking.

Obwaka is a native of Kenya and became pastor at St. Ignatius in 2013, although he has been a priest since 2010. Gaylor Bishop Steven Raica, a witness at the three-day trial who reportedly spoke to the accused following the alleged assault said that Obwaka didn’t indicate consensual sex between the two priests. Bishop Raica spoke on the phone with Obwaka, and said he was concerned when the priest admitted he couldn’t recall what occurred between him and the alleged victim.

In what looked like an impossible hurdle to climb, the law firm of Grabel and Associates shocked the state of Michigan by winning their second decision before the Michigan Supreme Court in less than a 3-week time span when the highest court of the state overturned the “People v. Alexander” decision that was rendered before the Michigan Court of Appeals (People v. Alexander, 2016 WL 5887900 [Red Flagged Michigan Court of Appeals decision]).

The case is one that has garnered an immense amount of controversy on social media and beyond. At trial, a jury found former Michigan State Police Officer Brian Alexander guilty of four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct but after that decision was rendered the defendant filed a motion for a new trial and evidentiary hearing based upon various allegations which included inconsistent testimony that was on the record at the preliminary hearing and new evidence that could’ve changed the outcome of the case. The trial court granted the motion and with it a new trial was ordered. The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision and now the Michigan Supreme Court weighed in by overturning the Appellate Court which leaves the legal community to ponder whether or not newly discovered evidence will grant a new trial? Grabel04a-2-300x146

Scott Grabel of Grabel and Associates was the lead counsel for the defense. Grabel spoke of the Supreme Court’s decision and weighed in on the law. Grabel was quoted as saying, “Whenever you are faced with a decision such as this, we have to turn to “People v. Cress” which lays out the elements that have to be proven (People v. Cress,  468 Mich 678, 664 NW2d 174 [2003]). The Cress court provides the blueprint and once that research is completed, it’s time to go to battle. Today, our Supreme Court voted in the favor of protecting the constitutional rights of not only Brian Alexander but anyone faced with similar circumstances and now he has a new chance at freedom. As a criminal defense attorney, the only thing that we can really ask is that our court system preserves the protections of our constitution. Today, I’m proud to say that was accomplished.”

Recently it was announced the House of Representatives had passed a bill that could effectively leave teenagers facing 15 years in prison for doing something many teens do – sexting, or sending messages or photos via mobile devices that are sexually explicit in nature. The measure was called “deadly and counterproductive” by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime who said the bill, although well intended, will ultimately punish our children, the very people the it is designed to protect. shutterstock_106035773-300x200

Michigan Rep. Justin Amash was one of only two Republicans who voted against the bill; a spokesperson from his office said Amash opposes mandatory minimum expansions and crimes already prosecuted at the state level. Additionally, H.R. 1761 or the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017” reportedly prohibits some conduct that Congress is not allowed to regulate under the Constitution.

The new bill builds on existing law making teen-to-teen sexting a crime. At the present time any person who violates the sexting law may be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison, and possibly up to 30 years. This is the punishment for first-time offenders; the penalties for second- or third-time offenders is even more serious.

Currently in the state of Michigan there are four degrees of CSC, or criminal sexual conduct, which a person who allegedly commits a sex-related crime may be charged with depending on various factors. These include first-, second-, third-, and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, with first-degree the most serious of all and leaving the defendant potentially facing life in prison if convicted. justice

Some Michigan lawmakers, including Representative Holly Hughes, are looking to change state law in an effort to not only protect children and families from sex offenses, but also to secure justice for victims who were allegedly sexually abused in the past, some decades ago. If a new bill sponsored by Hughes passes, it will result in additional prosecution of individuals who are allegedly sexual predators.

In 2001 the statute of limitations was eliminated by the legislature, however Hughes wants to make the law retroactive which would mean those who claim to have been sexually abused prior to that time could bring criminal charges against an alleged offender, even if the alleged crime took place decades ago. In essence, someone who claims to have been raped in 1970 could work with prosecutors to bring criminal charges nearly 50 years after the fact. If convicted, the offender could face a life prison term.

Contact Information