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Building a Strong Prosecution Team


Smart Tip: Consider cross designation of local prosecutors as federal Assistant U.S. Attorneys. That way you have options for prosecuting that can pull from both state and federal laws. During the investigation, there may be advantages to going state or federal. By cross designating, you have  both options without bringing on another prosecutor from a different agency.

Prosecutors should adopt a proactive and prepared approach to each case referral in order to land a successful prosecution.

Create an Infrastructure for Prosecutors to Handle Human Trafficking Cases

Human trafficking constitutes a new and developing area of the criminal justice system that employs recent statutes and a limited body of appellate case law. As a result, the “best practices” playbook for charging and trying human trafficking matters in court remains largely a work in progress across the country. Here are some steps for creating an appropriate infrastructure for prosecutors to handle human trafficking cases in their own jurisdictions.

  • Designate staff to handle human trafficking cases. At the outset, prosecutors should designate specific staff to handle human trafficking cases on an ongoing basis. Even though many offices cannot afford to devote prosecutors solely to human trafficking cases, the intake of cases should flow to a relatively small set of prosecutors in order to develop the continuity of service and expertise necessary to address the unique issues arising in human trafficking matters.
  • Establish an internal protocol. Prosecutors should create an internal protocol within their office to ensure that human trafficking cases are recognized and transferred to the human trafficking staff for review. Too often, human trafficking matters move through the legal system without being properly identified.
  • Collaborate with other prosecution offices. Prosecutors should foster a collaborative relationship with other prosecution offices, both state and federal, within their own region. Given the cross-jurisdictional nature of human trafficking offenders, a variety of law enforcement players in the relevant area should be engaged and trained to recognize and address cases in conjunction with the prosecutor’s trained staff.
  • Seek out human trafficking expertise and training. Beyond regional connections, the prosecutor’s office should also avail itself of the insights of experienced human trafficking task forces on a national level.

Consider an Organized Crime–Domestic Violence Approach

Key Concept: Organized Crime-Domestic Violence Approach

This approach combines the advantages of conducting a full organized crime investigation with the insights found in domestic violence or sexual assault/violence cases. This approach fully engages the victims’ needs while holding offenders accountable without building the entire criminal case on the victim’s shoulders, or “victim-centered but not victim-built.”

The proper investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases requires a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach that entails both the case theory and investigative tools used in organized crime and racketeering operations, as well as the victim-centered and trauma-informed case work arising from the modern evidence-based prosecution of domestic battery and sexual assault matters. The Organized Crime-Domestic Violence (OC-DV) approach, in use by several leading jurisdictions across the Nation, can help prosecutors maximize the strength of their human trafficking cases for prosecution.

Over the years, particularly beginning in the 1970s and onward, state and federal prosecutors and investigators developed more effective approaches to domestic violence (DV), sexual assault cases, and organized crime (OC) investigations. For example, in DV cases, the best practices approach (often called  “victimless-prosecutions” or an “evidence-based prosecutions” approach) works to make a case knowing in advance that the victim may be unwilling or unavailable to testify when the case comes to trial. Likewise, in sexual assault matters, the best practices approach now requires investigators and prosecutors to work in a victim-centered and trauma-informed manner that tries to avoid retraumatizing the victim during the criminal justice process (e.g., use of rape shield statutes, specialized interviews, and other tools). Lastly, OC investigations developed a series of advanced techniques for obtaining non-testimonial evidence (financials, social media, telephone records, electronic surveillance, etc.) and for using other nonvictim-based tools (such as the use of informants, immunity, plea agreements, and witness protection) to make enterprise cases targeting criminal businesses with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and other high-end offenses. All three of these traditions (DV, sexual assault, and OC) evolved into effective models of case work, and all three should be employed together in the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking matters. Making proper modifications for their own local conditions and available resources, human trafficking prosecutors can employ this model as one of the roadmaps for success.

Take the Burden off the Victim Witness

The traditional tools and techniques long-employed in organized crime and sexual assault investigations help take the weight off victims’ shoulders. Investigations should be victim-centered, not victim-dependent. The victim’s story is important in every case of human trafficking. Nevertheless, to the degree possible, law enforcement should build an independent case against the defendants, and thus see the victims as corroboration of other types of evidence, rather than cast them as the star witnesses at trial. This proactive approach to human trafficking not only helps to overcome a victim’s potential lack of credibility, unavailability, or uncooperative nature, but also to avoid the prospect of retraumatizing a victim within the criminal justice process itself.

Support Integrated Partnerships With Law Enforcement Agencies Early in the Investigation

Task Force Example: Co-location Brings Advantages to Team

Consider co-locating victim service provider personnel in the prosecutor’s office. Prosecutors and core victim service provider task force members can explore the possibility of placing “in-house” victim service provider personnel within the prosecutor’s physical office space.

A human trafficking task force in the Chicago area tried co-location with good results. The Salvation Army’s STOP-IT Program works as an embedded NGO for the law enforcement operations of the task force, and it maintains personnel within office space of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Collaborate in victim interviewing early on in the investigation. Involvement of the prosecutor from the outset when interviewing victims of human trafficking is more common than in other types of criminal investigations. Given the importance of the victims’ statements to the success of many human trafficking cases, early and regular involvement of the prosecutor in the investigation can be critical.

Working through your task force, make sure your law enforcement committee includes the key federal and local law enforcement agencies that can handle the full spectrum of human trafficking cases occurring within the prosecutor’s territory. In order to be effective, this list of agencies must cover both labor and sex trafficking matters and include both federal and state/local police departments. At a minimum, this list usually includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the state police, the local sheriff’s office, and the police departments of each of the major municipalities covered by the prosecutor’s authority. This will help ensure a strong team to prosecute trafficking cases. See section 3.1 on the task force law enforcement committee.

Integrate Victim Service Providers

Building strong cases for the successful prosecution of human trafficking cases requires multidisciplinary collaboration and bridging the cultural gap between the law enforcement and victim service providers or other relevant nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) serving human trafficking victims/survivors within the prosecutor’s jurisdiction.

Partner early with local victim service providers on the task force. From the outset, victim service providers should be working cases together with law enforcement and prosecutors. Often, victims of human trafficking have immense need for services, and having an iron-clad relationship with service providers helps ensure a strong victim and ultimately contributes to successful case outcomes. For a variety of reasons, many organizations initially hesitate to work closely with law enforcement, but targeted outreach by the prosecutor’s office itself can help to overcome this tendency by emphasizing common ground and doing so in a way that is consistent with each partner’s mission and ethical responsibilities. Additionally, the prevention of additional people being victimized in the future serves the goals of both victim service providers and law enforcement.


For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 5.4 Landing a Successful Prosecution.