A Hawaii federal judge has ruled that the federal government will not have to pay for defense costs in the failed Aloun Farms human trafficking case.

Mike and Alec Sou had argued in court last month that the federal government ought to reimburse them for roughly $500,000 in defense costs. The government dismissed human trafficking charges against the Sous in August “in the interest of justice.”

The ruling isn’t a complete surprise. Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway made clear at last month’s hearing that she had reservations about granting the brothers’ request, given that they had initially pleaded guilty in the case.

In her order denying the brothers’ request, Mollway writes: “Of particular significance to the court are the Sous’ pleas of guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit forced labor in the Original Indictment. A guilty plea requires much more than a mere statement that one is guilty.”

Mollway concludes that “the Sous do not establish that either the case as a whole or any particular charge was frivolous.”

The brothers estimate they spent about $400,000 on lawyers fees and $100,000 on other fees and costs, such as bringing in expert witnesses.

The government, for its part, had asked the judge to consider the chilling effect granting the request could create for future prosecutors.

Under the Hyde Amendment, a defendant who has won his case in a criminal prosecution can recover legal fees if they can show that the United States’ position was “either vexatious, frivolous, or in bad faith.”

The Aloun Farms trial collapsed in August after the lead prosecutor admitted before the judge that she had misstated the law in front of the grand jury that indicted the Sous.

The brothers had been charged in an alleged human trafficking scheme involving 44 Thai farm workers. They faced 12 felony counts including five counts of forced labor, one count of forced labor conspiracy, two counts of document servitude, one count of visa fraud conspiracy, two counts of harboring an illegal alien for financial gain, and one obstruction of justice count. If found guilty, they each faced up to 20 years in prison.

The Sous initially pleaded guilty in January 2010 to conspiring to commit forced labor, signing sworn statements admitting that they told the workers that they were not free to leave the farm and would be deported if they were disobedient.

But at their sentencing hearing in July 2010, Mollway threw out their plea deal after it appeared the Sous didn’t understand what they were pleading to.

Read Mollway’s order denying attorney’s fees:

About the Author