Ross Mirkarimi – Sex Offender For Life?
Under Prop. 35, SF Sheriff Qualifies As “Human Trafficker”

At-Large Representative, Libertarian National Committtee

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Proposition 35 on this November’s statewide ballot has gotten a free pass in many quarters because it purports to go after “human traffickers.” Yet if the implications of this measure were more widely known, many people might see it in a different light.

An opportunity to consider these implications comes in the context of a San Francisco story that’s been much in the news this year – the saga of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

During an argument between Mirkarimi and his wife Eliana Lopez last New Year’s eve, he grabbed her roughly by the arm, leaving a bruise which she subsequently showed to her friend and neighbor Ivory Madison. The two women videotaped it as Lopez’s insurance policy in case her family troubles escalated and Mirkarimi tried to gain custody of their son.

Lopez didn’t wish to press charges, which should have been the end of the matter as far as the law was concerned. But shortly after Madison betrayed her friend’s confidence and leaked the story to the media, the district attorney’s office filed charges anyway.

Famous, wealthy, and/or politically connected folks are normally able to escape any criminal record for transgressions on the level of Mirkarimi’s. When the husband of SF fire chief Joanna Hayes-White called police in 2005 to report that she’d hit him in the head with a pint glass, she wasn’t removed from her post or even officially censured, let alone prosecuted.

In this case however, the sheriff’s prominence wasn’t enough to shield him from political enemies. On January 13, Mirkarimi was charged with felony domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness in connection with the New Year’s incident, and as routinely happens to poorer and more obscure defendants, Mirkarimi was bullied into pleading guilty to a lesser charge. On March 13 he pled guilty to a “false imprisonment” misdemeanor in exchange for the other charges being dropped. San Francisco mayor Ed Lee jumped on Mirkarimi’s guilty plea as a convenient opportunity to suspend him from office for “official misconduct”.

Most San Franciscans probably wouldn’t have shed many tears over seeing Ross Mirkarimi spend a few days in jail. But even his most vociferous critics might blanch at seeing him thrown in jail for ten years or more, fined up to $500,000, and branded as a “sex offender” for life as a result of the arm-bruising incident.

It would be beyond perverse if all that stood between the sheriff and the possibility of such an excessive punishment being imposed was the question of whether Eliana Lopez had been contributing to the support of their household by working as a prostitute.

Yet if Proposition 35 had been in effect last December, that is just how matters would legally stand.

Under Prop. 35’s language, a “false imprisonment” plea like Mirkarimi’s could readily constitute an admission of having “deprived personal liberty” [see sections 3(b) and 3(h)(3) of the legislation], establishing a legal basis to convict someone acting as the sheriff did, whose partner’s work consisted of providing erotic services rather than being a homemaker, as a human trafficker.

Given the aforementioned realities of how “justice” is often dispensed, most victims of Proposition 35 won’t be political office-holders like Mirkarimi or others with the resources to protect them. Most victims of this measure if it passes will likely be ordinary workers providing consensual sexual services, and their friends, family members, roommates, etc.

The way Prop. 35 defines terms like “coercion” means that, as Yael Chanoff wrote in the Sept. 19 San Francisco Bay Guardian, “If a prostitute shares a joint with a fellow worker, she could be guilty of providing a controlled substance, meaning she could be guilty of coercion, meaning she could be guilty of depriving personal liberty. That means triggering the harsh penalties for trafficking.”

The Guardian acknowledges such a person’s conviction as a trafficker would be unlikely, but rightly notes what the mere threat of conviction could do. Facing a decade in jail, a fine of up to $500,000, and lifetime “sex offender” status could easily coerce her into giving up her right to jury trial, pleading guilty and accepting a lesser penalty, even if she never actually committed any crime at all, let alone human trafficking.

A measure written to produce outcomes like that should throw up a red flag. It flies in the face of basic fairness and common sense, not to mention the reality of already overcrowded jails and a state too broke to pay for incarcerating yet more prisoners who represent no real threat to public safety. Yet California voters have been misled with “feel-good” anti-crime legislation before. We’re still trying to fix the “3 Strikes” law that has resulted in people being sent to jail for life over a third offense as minor as stealing a pizza.

Please help spread the truth about Proposition 35 so that another recipe for gross injustice does not become California law this November.

Starchild is a San Francisco sex worker, libertarian activist, and spokesperson for the No on 35 campaign.