Midstate prosecutor gets first conviction in Pa. on "involuntary servitude"

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Dec 15, 2016 3:46 PM

(Reading) -- A prosecutor in the midstate is believed to be the first one in the state to get a conviction under a new law meant to address human trafficking.

Berks County Assistant District Attorney Carmen White brought an involuntary servitude charge against a man who provided a teenage girl with drugs, and threatened to tell others if she didn't have sex with him.

35-year-old Martin Mercado pleaded guilty in the case.

In 2014, state lawmakers created the felony involuntary servitude charge, with few specifics.

Prosecutors can use it in thirteen different scenarios, including threats of kidnapping, abuse, extortion, fraud, coercion, and even helping someone get drugs.

White says the Mercado case clearly demanded the charge, and others will have to use discretion so they don't just tack it on.

"That's the delicate balance that every prosecutor has to somehow maintain. Our job is to achieve justice, it's not just to punish people. It comes with practice, it also comes with humanity, practicing humanity," says White.

White says educating police about the involuntary servitude charge is important so they know to look for circumstances when it might be warranted.

"Education is extremely important for our police. I think oftentimes, they might not, if it's a charge they haven't applied all that frequently, it might not come to mind," she adds.

Mercado was sentenced to three to eight years in state prison.

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