July 22, 2017

Archives for July 17, 2017

Tenth Circuit: Mens Rea Element of Child Sex-Trafficking Statute Satisfied Where Defendant Recklessly Disregarded Victim’s Underage Status

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Doung on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had to determine whether a statutory amendment to 18 U.S.C. § 1591, relating to child sex-trafficking, altered the government’s burden in proving the requisite mens rea. The defendants, Tung Doung, William Baker, and Curtis Anthony were each charged with one count of child sex trafficking and one count of conspiracy to engage in child sex-trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C §§ 1591 and 1594. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, on the basis that it did not allege the mens rea element of the child sex trafficking crime, and the district court granted the motion.

Under § 1591, the government can prove the mens rea element of child sex-trafficking pertaining to the age of a child in three ways: (1) by showing that the defendant knew the child was underage; (2) the defendant acted in reckless disregard of their age, or (3) the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim prior to engaging in a commercial sex transaction. In the superseding indictment, the government charged the defendants only with having a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim to prove the requisite mens rea.

To interpret the statute, the court began by looking at the plain language of § 1591, stating, “the plainness or ambiguity of statutory language is determined by reference to the language itself, the specific context in which that language is used, and the broader context of the statute as a whole. After looking at the plain language of the statute, the court determined that § 1591 (c) (pertaining to the language adding reasonable observation as a mens rea standard), was not ambiguous, and provides the government a third option for proving a defendant’s mens rea.

Because the section was enacted by congress as a part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), the court next addressed the congressional intent behind the addition of § 1591. The court noted that Congress’ stated purpose behind the act was to, “combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude,” and that § 1591 was added to provide federal criminal penalties for engaging in such conduct. The court then stated that because Congress added subsection 1591(b) to lessen the government’s burden as to the mens rea required regarding a child’s age, the addition of a third subsection further lessening that burden is wholly consistent with the intent of the TVPA.

The defendants argued that if the court interprets § 1591(c) as giving the government a third avenue to prove mens rea, then the section would effectively relieve the government from having to prove actual knowledge or reckless disregard of a victim’s age. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, and stated that contrary to the defendant’s assertions, the government will still have to prove actual knowledge or reckless disregard in circumstances where the defendants did not have a reasonable opportunity to observe the child victim before engaging in the commercial sex transaction. Additionally, the court stated that the defendant’s preferred interpretation actually goes against the stated objective of the TVPA of lessening the government’s burden by restricting the government’s ability to show mens rea under the reckless disregard standard.

As to the conspiracy charge, the defendants argue that the courts interpretation of § 1591(c) does not resolve if the district court properly dismissed the conspiracy charge. Relying on the seventh circuit holding in United States v. Saldago, the defendants claim that they could not have conspired to commit the crime of child sex-trafficking without knowing that the child in question was actually a minor. The court rejected this claim as well, holding that because the government is alleging the defendants had reasonable opportunity to observe the victim, the indictment specifically charges that the defendants had knowledge of the victim’s age for the purpose of the conspiracy charge as well.

The court reversed the decision of the district court in dismissing both charges against the defendants, and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: 18 U.S.C. § 3583 Allows Sentences Greater than One Year for Violations of Terms of Supervised Release

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Collins on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had to determine if the maximum allowable term of incarceration following a second violation of the terms of supervised release under 18 U.S.C. § 3583(e)(3) refers to the original crime or the violation of the terms of the supervised release. Howard Collins was originally convicted of a Class B felony for knowingly and intentionally distributing more than five grams of (in this case) crack cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(ii). After his initial period of incarceration, he was granted supervised release. After violating his supervised release once before, upon his second violation of the terms of his release, the court sentenced him to one-year re-incarceration under the belief that § 3583(e)(3) permitted a one-year maximum term.

Section 3583(e)(3) stipulates the maximum allowable period of re-incarceration where supervised release has been revoked is the length of the supervised release authorized by statute for the offense that resulted in the supervised release. On appeal, the government asserted that the district court improperly read the statute to preclude a re-incarceration period over one year. The government argued that the language of the statute relating to the “offense that resulted in such term of supervised release” referred to the original offense for which Collins was convicted (which would allow for a three year maximum), not the violation of his supervised release. In interpreting the statute, the court noted that revocation of supervised release, while often leading to incarceration, is not in and of itself a crime and is only subject to a preponderance of the evidence standard. As incarceration for a criminal offense under a standard less than beyond a reasonable doubt would be a violation of the Due Process Clause, the court reasoned that the “offense” referenced in the statute was the original offense for which Collins was charged.

Looking to the holding in the Supreme Court case of Kellogg Brown & Root Servs. Inc. v. United States ex rel. Carter, the court stated that the interpretation of the term “offense” to be the original offense for which someone was convicted is applicable to the entirety of Title 18, (at issue here). At the outset, Collins argues that the court’s interpretation of the term original must, in his case, relate to his violation of the terms of supervised release because the phrase “resulted in” requires actual causation, and “but for” his first violation of supervised release he would no longer be on a term of supervised release to violate. The court rejects this contention, stating that Collins’ reading of the statute and the holding in Burrage v. United States to require actual and proximate cause, if adopted, would require the court to to over look the aforementioned due process issues. Furthermore, the court states that ‘but-for’ his original conviction, he could not have been sentenced to a term of supervised release upon either revocation.

In further opposition to the court’s interpretation, Collins supports his own interpretation by asserting that the statutory history of § 3583(e)(3) and (h), including its cross-reference to § 3553(a)(1) leads to an interpretation that the term ‘offense’ means violation of his supervised release. The court, again citing Kellogg to reject Collins’ interpretation, said that because the term ‘offense’ under Title 18 has been interpreted to mean the original offense for which he was convicted, the cross-reference to § 3553 (a)(1) would also carry that interpretation. In Collins’ final challenge to the court’s interpretation, he asserted that because prior to a 1994 amendment the statute referred to “the offense for which the person was convicted” (emphasis added), as opposed to the current iteration that replaced ‘convicted’ with ‘offense’, Congress specifically intended to include violations of the terms of statutory release. The court also rejected these arguments under Kellogg, stating that because Title 18 refers to crimes as the original ‘offense’, the term must be given the same meaning throughout the statutory scheme. Furthermore, the court added, the amendment worked to actually expand the sentencing court’s authority, and an interpretation that limited the court’s ability to sentence a term of imprisonment for revocation of supervised release would be inconsistent with that intention.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the sentencing order of one-year, and remanded the case with the instruction that the court vacate its revocation judgment and resentence Collins.

Tenth Circuit: Discretionary Function Exemption Applies to All Activities of Prosecutors

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of James D. Redd, M.D. v. United States on Tuesday, February 14, 2017.

The facts of the case stemmed from the case of Estate of James D. Redd, M.D. v. Love, in which the estate of Dr. Redd alleged that Mr. Love, a special agent with the Bureau of Land Management, violated Dr. Redd’s Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when officers searched the Redds’ home as a part of an investigation that targeted persons in possession and trafficking in Native American artifacts that had been taken illegally from the Four Corners region of the United States. The day after agents searched the Redds’ property and arrested him, Dr. Redd committed suicide.

At the beginning of the trial of the lawsuit against Agent Love, the court dismissed all claims against Agent Love except one alleging excessive force. The court later dismissed the excessive force claim as well. In this appeal, the Tenth Circuit was evaluating one of the early claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) that had been dismissed by the district court in the first case: that the value of a “bird effigy pendant” was, as alleged by the estate, overstated in order to support a felony charge against Dr. Redd.

At the request of the parties to the case, the court decided the case on the briefs without oral argument. The court reviewed the claim de novo that the value of the pendant was inflated, and that prosecutors were aware of the inflation. The court stated, “determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” The court agreed with the district court’s finding that the allegation that a cooperating witness intentionally over-valued the pendant is implausible and not well pleaded. The court then noted that the district court was correct in stating that, “absent the implausible allegation of fraudulent valuation of the pendant, the discretionary function exception applies to all identified activities of the prosecutors barring the Estate’s FTCA claim.”

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of all the Estate’s FTCA claims based on the discretionary-function exemption.