On July 10th, police approached a 13-year-old girl sobbing on the steps of the Lincoln Depot rail station. She told them she had been abducted from her hometown in Bleckley County, Georgia four days earlier and driven more than 700 miles away to Springfield, Illinois. The man allegedly responsible is a registered sex offender in Illinois, and he could now be facing federal sex trafficking charges.
Why Federal Rather Than Illinois State Charges?
It comes down to the specifics of the case. Incidents of aggravated sexual abuse and sex crimes involving children are usually tried at the federal level. Other cases that are frequently tried at the federal level include those involving sex trafficking, those taken place across state lines, and those involving repeat offenders. In short, sex crimes often become federal offenses when violence is involved and victims are young and vulnerable.
This case meets all of those circumstances.
Given the severity of the crime, the sex trafficking of a minor across state borders, and the fact that he was already a registered sex offender, the Illinois man accused of kidnapping the 13-year-old girl will almost certainly be tried in a federal case. Some of the federal charges he may find himself up against include sex trafficking, kidnapping, interference with child custody, and enticing a child for indecent purposes.
How Serious Are Federal Sex Crime Charges?
Generally speaking, federal cases carry harsher punishment than state cases, so the offender will most likely be sentenced to a lengthy stay in prison and a hefty amount of fines and legal fees.
Conviction of a federal crime involves minimum mandatory sentencing. Because the victim is under the age of 14, the sentence cannot be fewer than 15 years, and the defendant could be facing life in prison.
Federal crimes also carry the potential for increased sentence minimums, higher fines, and other additional penalties. Factors that commonly lead to increased sentences and additional penalties include severity and prior offenses. Offenders convicted of child sex trafficking are also required to pay restitution to their victims for any losses they caused.
Additionally, federal sex offenders may be required to attend a federal medical center as part of the conditions of their sentence or release, and they are often required to attend the Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility.
Offenders required to attend this facility are enrolled in the residential Sex Offender Treatment Program or the Sex Offender Management Program. These programs are meant to cure sex offenders of the internal issues that caused them to commit a sex crime.
Even after completing their sentence and being released, all sex offenders will remain on the Sex Offender Registry. Offenders on the registry are excluded from important freedoms enjoyed by other American citizens. There are three levels of offenders on the registry, but they all suffer the same consequences, often struggling to find places to live and work, and forever facing negative perception in their communities.
And here’s the kicker — when state and federal laws prohibit a crime, both courts can try the offender.
Could Someone Really Face Federal and Illinois State Charges for a Sex Crime?
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that facing criminal conviction for state and federal charges is not in violation of a person’s freedom from double jeopardy. So once the offender is released from his federal sentencing (if he ever is), he may face even more charges at the state level.
Sometimes, the smallest detail can change a state case to a federal case, and different strategies are suggested for fighting cases in state and federal courts, so always be as informed as possible about any charges you may be facing.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.