On Friday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn the conviction of a child sex-trafficker on the ground that the government had failed to prove that he was aware of the trafficked girl being underage.
Devon Robinson’s arguments were rejected by the federal appeals court which found that the prosecutors had no obligation to prove that the defendant in a child sex-trafficking case knew of the age of the victim or not, provided the defendant had “reasonable opportunity” to observe the victim.
The dispute could arise, because the victim, a 17-year-old girl, had testified at Robinson’s trial in 2010 that Robinson was her boyfriend and not her pimp, and that she had told “everybody” at the time that she was 19 years of age.
The jury convicted Robinson and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, but on appeal, Robinson argued that he was innocent of the charges of child sex-trafficking as the prosecutors did not prove he was aware of the girl being a minor.
The defense and prosecutor’s provided different interpretations of Section 1591 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which was amended in 2008 to convict a person of child sex-trafficking if he/she had acted, “with the knowledge, or in reckless disregard of the fact, that the person will be used for commercial sexual purposes and either is a child or will be induced to participate through the use of force, the threat of force, fraud, coercion, or some combination of such inducements.”
Robinson’s defense argued that for Section 1591 to apply, the prosecutors had to prove that Robinson had reasonable opportunity to observe the girl, and that he had shown reckless disregard of her underage status.
However, prosecutors held they had no need to prove both the conditions because the addition of further clauses in the Wilberforce Act, 2008 was meant to expand the scope of the section, and not to restrict it.
The Wilberforce Act, 2008 had also added a subsection (c) after subsection (b) of Section 1591 stating, “(c) In a prosecution under subsection (a)(1) in which the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the person so recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained or maintained, the Government need not prove that the defendant knew that the person had not attained the age of 18 years.”
The 2nd Circuit agreed with the prosecutors. U.S. Circuit Judge Jose Cabranes observed in the opinion, “Viewed in context, the most natural reading of this provision is that proof that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim may substitute for proof that the defendant knew the victim’s underage status.”
In a short concurring opinion, Judge Amalya Kearse held that while she would affirm Robinson’s conviction, she found it difficult to accept the majority’s interpretation of Section 1591.