Legal Definition of Involuntary Servitude and Peonage
A condition of compulsory service or labor performed by one person, against his will, for the benefit of another person.2 min read
2. Involuntary Servitude and the Law
A condition of compulsory service or labor performed by one person, against his will, for the benefit of another person due to force, threats, intimidation or other similar means of coercion and compulsion directed against him.
Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Service
In considering whether service or labor was performed by someone against his will or involuntarily, it makes no difference that the person may have initially agreed, voluntarily, to render the service or perform the work. If a person willingly begins work but later desires to withdraw and is then forced to remain and perform work against his will, his service becomes involuntary. Also, whether a person is paid a salary or a wage is not determinative of the question as to whether that person has been held in involuntary servitude. In other words, if a person is forced to labor against his will, his service is involuntary even though he is paid for his work.
However, it is necessary to prove that the person knowingly and willfully took action, by way of force, threats, intimidation or other form of coercion, causing the victim to reasonably believe that he had no way to avoid continued service, that he was confronted by the existence of a superior and overpowering authority, constantly threatening to the extent that his will was completely subjugated.
Involuntary Servitude and the Law
Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. 1584, makes it a Federal crime or offense for anyone to willfully hold another person in involuntary servitude.
A person can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proved beyond a reasonable doubt:
First: That the person held the victim in a condition of 'involuntary servitude';
Second: That such holding was for a 'term,'; and
Third: That the person acted knowingly and willfully.
It must be shown that a person held to involuntary servitude was so held for a 'term.' It is not necessary, however, that any specific period of time be proved so long as the 'term' of the involuntary service was not wholly insubstantial or insignificant.
Title 18, U.S.C., Sec. 1581(a) is the peonage law cited in the indictment.
The specific facts which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in order to establish the offense of peonage include each and all of the three specific factual elements constituting involuntary servitude as previously stated and explained in these instructions, plus a fourth specific fact; namely, that the involuntary servitude was compelled by the person in order to satisfy a real or imagined debt regardless of amount.