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JULY 1994

Article 8 - Prohibition of Slavery

Slavery and Involuntary Servitude.  Abolition of the 
institution of slavery in the United States dates 
from President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, 
effective in 1863, and the Thirteenth Amendment to 
the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1865.  The 
Thirteenth Amendment also prohibits the holding of a 
person in involuntary servitude.  The U.S. 
Department of Justice prosecutes involuntary 
servitude cases under three statutes designed to 
implement the Thirteenth Amendment, 18 U.S.C.    
1581, 1583, and 1584, and under 18 U.S.C.   241, 
which criminalizes conspiracies to interfere with 
the exercise of constitutional rights.  In this 
context, 18 U.S.C.   241 criminalizes conspiracies 
to interfere with a person's Thirteenth Amendment 
right to be free from involuntary servitude.  The 
other involuntary servitude statutes make unlawful: 
(1) holding or returning a person to a condition of 
peonage (  1581); (2) carrying a person away to or 
enticing a person to involuntary servitude (  1583); 
and (3) holding a person to a condition of 
involuntary servitude (  1584).  Peonage is a form 
of involuntary servitude based on real or alleged 

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court defined involuntary 
servitude to mean a condition of servitude in which 
the victim is forced to do labor for another 
individual through the use or threatened use of 
physical or legal coercion.  United States v. 
Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931 (1988).  Thus, Department of 
Justice prosecutions of involuntary servitude 
require evidence showing the use or threatened use 
of physical or legal coercion by the defendant as a 
sufficient means of holding the victim to a 
condition of forced labor.  Psychological coercion 
alone used to hold a person to forced labor does not 
constitute involuntary servitude.  Id. at 948-49.  
Evidence of coercive measures such as withholding a 
victim's mail or isolating the victim from members 
of his family in an effort to dissuade the victim 
from leaving his place of labor is not by itself 
sufficient for an involuntary servitude conviction.  
However, the age, mental competency, or other 
specific characteristics of a victim may be relevant 
in determining whether a particular type or a 
certain degree of physical or legal coercion is 
sufficient to hold that victim to involuntary 
servitude.  Id. at 948.  For example, a child who is 
told he can go home through a strange area at night 
may be subject to physical coercion where an adult 
would not be, and an illegal immigrant threatened 
with deportation may be subject to legal coercion 
where a citizen of the United States would not be.

Unfortunately, cases of involuntary servitude 
continue to arise under these statutes.  The 
Department of Justice's enforcement efforts in 
recent years have principally involved two 
categories of prosecutions: (1) migrant worker 
cases; and (2) cases involving persons with 
particular vulnerabilities.

The migrant worker cases typically involve the 
recruitment of workers through deceit or force to 
perform agricultural work at a labor camp.  The 
workers are generally informed after a few days that 
they are being charged for meals, shelter, and other 
necessities and that they may not leave until they 
have worked off their debts.  The operators of the 
camp often employ threats and acts of violence to 
create a climate of fear and intimidation that 
prevents the workers from leaving the camp.  

In United States v. Warren, a 1983 prosecution in 
the Middle District of Florida, four defendants were 
convicted of holding persons to involuntary 
servitude by picking up individuals under false 
pretenses, delivering them to labor camps in North 
Carolina and Florida, requiring them to work long 
hours for little or no pay, and keeping them in the 
camps through poverty, threats and acts of violence.  
The government introduced evidence at trial to show 
that disobedient workers were beaten, threatened 
with a gun or a smoldering piece of rubber hose, and 
denied food or medicine as punishment for failure to 
work as expected by the camp operators.  Several 
workers were able to leave the camp only after a nun 
arranged for them to obtain money from family 
members whom the workers had been unable to contact 
on their own.  The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals 
upheld the convictions.  United States v. Warren, 
772 F.2d 827 (11th Cir. 1985).

The "vulnerable person" cases typically involve 
victims whom the defendants are able to hold in a 
condition of involuntary servitude based in part on 
some specific characteristic of the victim.  Persons 
with particular vulnerabilities include illegal 
immigrants, elderly or very young persons and 
mentally retarded persons.

In United States v. Vargas, a 1991 prosecution in 
the Southern District of California, three 
defendants were convicted on one count of holding a 
person to involuntary servitude.  Claudia Vargas 
recruited seventeen-year-old Juanita Hernandez-
Ortiz, in Mexico City, Mexico, in 1989 to work as a 
maid for her family, first in Mexico and then in the 
United States.  The defendants originally agreed to 
send money to Ms. Hernandez' family, to give her 
room and board, and, eventually, to send her to 
school.  Instead, the Vargases forced Ms. Hernandez 
to enter the country illegally, then took all of her 
identification documents and threatened to turn her 
over to immigration officials.  Throughout 1990 and 
1991, the defendants' physical abuse of Ms. 
Hernandez escalated.  Raul Vargas on one occasion 
used a broom handle to beat Ms. Hernandez, and his 
mother tore clumps of hair from Ms. Hernandez' head.  
By April 1990, the defendants were forcing Ms. 
Hernandez to live in the garage, locking her in with 
little or no food when they would be gone for days 
at a time.  A county child protective services 
worker eventually took Ms. Hernandez from the Vargas 

Migrant worker and vulnerable person cases are not 
the only involuntary servitude prosecutions pursued 
by the Department of Justice.  In United States v. 
Lewis, the Department prosecuted eight leaders of a 
religious sect known as the House of Judah for their 
activities in forming and monitoring work details 
among the male children who lived on the sect's 
compound in rural Western Michigan.  The sect 
leaders, including prophet William Lewis (a/k/a My 
Lord Prophet) and members of his leadership council, 
prohibited members from leaving the compound, 
assigned persons to patrol the perimeter of the 
compound with weapons, and publicly beat members who 
refused to obey commands, attempted to leave or 
otherwise displeased sect leaders.  The young male 
children were assigned to work details and were 
beaten when they did not work or performed their 
work poorly.  Twelve-year-old John Yarbough died 
five days after one of the beatings he received for 
failing to report for assigned work.  All seven 
defendants who went to trial were convicted on 
charges of conspiring to hold John Yarbough to 
involuntary servitude and of holding John Yarbough 
and others to involuntary servitude; the eighth 
defendant pled guilty prior to trial.  United States 
v. Lewis, 644 F. Supp. 1391 (W.D. Mich. 1986).  

One of the major issues in the Lewis case was how 
the presence of the children's parents, also members 
of the sect, at the compound affected the 
defendants' culpability.  In affirming the 
convictions in Lewis, the Sixth Circuit Court of 
Appeals held that the defendants did not share the 
immunity of the children's parents based on the 
parents' right to discipline their children.  United 
States v. King, 840 F.2d 1276, 1280 (6th Cir. 1988).

In another case involving the holding of children in 
involuntary servitude, United States v. Van Brunt, 
the Department of Justice successfully prosecuted 
eight defendants who were leaders of a pseudo-
religious/athletic cult based in Los Angeles, 
California, and Clackamas County, Oregon.  These 
defendants were indicted in Oregon on charges 
involving the systematic physical abuse of over 50 
children.  The children were coerced into performing 
arduous athletic accom- plishments to attract 
corporate financial support and sponsorship for the 
cult.  All the children of cult members were 
allegedly abused, including the daughter of Eldridge 
Broussard, the group's founder and leader, who died 
as a result of a severe beating.  A few months later 
following the indictment, Eldridge Broussard died of 
natural causes.  All seven of the remaining 
defendants pleaded guilty a month before trial was 
scheduled and were sentenced to serve prison terms 
of 2 1/4 years to over 8 years.

Since 1977, the Department of Justice has prosecuted 
28 involuntary servitude cases involving 100 
defendants.  The cases have resulted in 36 
convictions and 46 guilty pleas.

Hard Labor.  Hard labor is no longer available as a 
criminal sanction under federal criminal law, though 
it remains a possible punishment under the Uniform 
Code of Military Justice and some state laws.  In 
these jurisdictions, a judge may sentence a person 
to "a term of imprisonment with hard labor."  There 
is no specific constitutional or statutory 
prohibition against hard labor.  The Eighth 
Amendment, as discussed above, prohibits the 
infliction of any punishment that is "cruel and 
unusual."  While hard labor does not necessarily 
constitute cruel and unusual punishment, prison work 
requirements which compel inmates to perform 
physical labor which is beyond their strength, 
endangers their lives, or causes undue pain 
constitute cruel and unusual punishment.  Ray v. 
Mabry, 556 F.2d 881 (8th Cir. 1977).  The Supreme 
Court has, on more than one occasion, found hard 
labor to be an excessive punishment grossly 
disproportionate to the crime for which it was 
imposed.  Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349 

Several states possess the statutory authority to 
place offenders in programs that employ "hard 
labor."  While the term "hard labor" has remained 
unaltered in a few states, the U.S. military 
services, and some U.S. territories, "hard labor . . 
. [is] not correspondent to work in the stocks or 
other 18th century punishments which were then 
considered reasonable."  Justiniano Matos v. Gaspar 
Rodriguez, 440 F. Supp. 673, 675 (D. Puerto Rico 
1976).  In theory, "hard labor" refers to a form of 
punishment and suggests more than mere institution 
work assignments.  In practice, however, the jobs 
assigned to prisoners sentenced to "hard labor" are 
often the very same as those assigned to prisoners 
sentenced to a term of imprisonment.  In the 
majority of states and territories where the "hard 
labor" terminology has survived, courts and 
corrections agencies have translated the sanction 
into modern community corrections programs (halfway 
house placement, work release, boot camps, etc.).  
There are typically four placement alternatives for 
offenders sentenced under hard labor statutes:  (1) 
correctional institution work crew, (2) work release 
program with a local building contractor, public 
agency, sanitation crew, etc., (3) apprenticeship 
program with a mentor skilled in a particular trade, 
or (4) vocational training.

An example of a work program where an offender could 
be placed is provided by the Home Builders Institute 
(HBI), the educational arm of the National 
Association of Homebuilders.  HBI provides a 
"Project Trade" program for adult offenders in 
prison and a "Job Corps" program for juveniles in 
trouble.  Offenders typically receive remedial 
education, vocational training, counseling, and 
health care.  These programs are designed "to turn 
America's hardest-to- employ" into productive, 
independent citizens through classroom and work 
assignments in eleven separate construction trade 
training programs.  See HBI "Project Trade 
Abstract," Washington, D.C., Home Builders 

Forced Labor.  The United States does not engage in 
practices of forced labor.  On June 7, 1991, the 
United States ratified International Labor 
Organization Convention No. 105 concerning the 
abolition of forced labor.  The Convention, which 
entered into force for the U.S. on September 25, 
1992, requires ratifying states to undertake to 
suppress and not make use of forced labor in five 
specific cases:  as a means of political coercion or 
education, or as punishment for holding or 
expressing political views or views ideologically 
opposed to the established political, social or 
economic system; as a method of mobilizing and using 
labor for purposes of economic development; as a 
means of labor discipline; as punishment for having 
participated in strikes; and as a means of racial, 
social, national or religious discrimination. 
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