June 20, 2019

Tenth Circuit: District Court Judgment Affirmed Despite Multiple Assertions of Error

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Brinson on Monday, December 8, 2014.

An undercover officer in Oklahoma solicited prostitution from a website called Backpage.com, and agreed to meet a prostitute at a motel in room 123. At the motel, Officer Osterdyk met C.H., who appeared much younger than 21, and she agreed to perform oral sex on him. She had a cell phone open on the bed, and received text messages during the exchange saying “Don’t do nothing. It’s the cops.” After receiving these messages, C.H.’s demeanor changed, and Officer Osterdyk arrested her.

Other officers were in the parking lot of the motel and observed a black SUV approaching room 123. One of the officers spoke to the hotel desk clerk, who reported that room 123 was rented out to Tarran Brinson, a young black male with dreadlocks or braids wearing a red shirt and a red Chicago Bulls hat. The clerk told the officer that Brinson was a “regular” at the hotel and had rented out four other rooms that week, always paying cash. The clerk said that Brinson drove a black SUV and pointed it out in the parking lot. It was the same SUV the officers saw approaching room 123. Roughly 45 minutes later, the officers found Brinson in the parking lot of a nearby motel and arrested him.

Brinson was charged with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking, sex trafficking of children, attempted sex trafficking of children, use of a facility in interstate commerce in aid of racketeering enterprise, coercion and enticement, obstruction of justice, and obstruction of justice by threat or corruption. After the government presented its case, Brinson moved for a judgment of acquittal on all charges. The court granted his motion as to the obstruction of justice by threat or corruption charge and denied it as to all other counts. A jury convicted Brinson on the remaining six counts. He appealed on six points of error.

Brinson first argued the district court erred by allowing expert witness testimony on child prostitution, arguing the testimony would not have aided the jury’s assessment and it was not reliable because the expert officer was not familiar with the facts of the case. The Tenth Circuit disagreed. The officer presented testimony on certain terms of the child prostitution trade, which proved helpful to the jury because other witnesses used these terms in testimony. Brinson also argued the testimony was not reliable because the expert officer was not familiar with the facts of the instant case. However, his testimony was used to define terms of the prostitution trade, not to verify the facts of the instant case, and there was no error in its admission.

Next, Brinson argued the admission of certain Facebook and text messages violated his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause rights. Ample evidence suggested Brinson had authored the Facebook messages, and they were therefore properly admitted as statements of a party opponent, not implicating the Sixth Amendment. As for the text messages, Brinson failed to specify which messages violated his Sixth Amendment rights, so his argument failed.

Brinson also argued the district court erred in allowing introduction of hearsay statements to Officer Osterdyk during his undercover investigation. The statements did not constitute hearsay, as they were not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted, but rather to explain why Officer Osterdyk was in room 123, why he knew the price of the sexual act, and why he agreed to pay for oral sex. The statements were not hearsay, and the Tenth Circuit found that even if they had been, they were not “testimonial” and therefore no Confrontation Clause violation occurred.

Brinson next argued the district court erred by admitting a certificate authenticating debit card records. The prosecution admitted the certificate to authenticate the records as business records under FRE 902(11). The Tenth Circuit has previously held that such certificates are non-testimonial and therefore do not implicate the Sixth Amendment. Brinson argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009), was dispositive, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding instead that the records in Brinson’s case differed from those offered in Melendez-Diaz because the certificate did not contain any “analysis” that would constitute out-of-court testimony.

Brinson argued the evidence obtained after his arrest should have been suppressed, since the police lacked probable cause to arrest him. However, the police had ample reason to arrest Brinson, and there was no error in allowing the evidence obtained after his arrest.

Finally, Brinson argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction on each of the six counts. The Tenth Circuit analyzed each count individually and found a reasonable jury could have found Brinson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of each count.

The Tenth Circuit found that the district court committed no error, and Brinson’s convictions were affirmed.

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