#sextrafficking | Criminal law — sex trafficking; interstate commerce | #tinder | #pof | #match

Where the government introduced evidence showing that defendant had used the internet to advertise prostitution, evidence supported element of conviction on charge of sex trafficking.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by Judge Edmond E. Chang, Northern District of Illinois.

Between 2014 and 2016, Allen Young promoted the prostitution of high-school-aged minors and took a cut of the money that they were paid for sex. Young was eventually indicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1591 for sex trafficking four minor victims and attempting to do the same with a fifth. At trial, the government presented substantial evidence of Young’s guilt, with testimony from each of the five victims, the FBI special agent who investigated the case and a witness who had seen Young transport the victims. The government also introduced phone records, and testimony from Young’s former employer that the employer fired Young when it was discovered that Young used the workplace to photograph and advertise young women on Backpage. The jury convicted Young on all counts, and the court sentenced Young to 21 years’ imprisonment. Young then appealed.

The appellate panel began by addressing Young’s challenge to the district court’s decision to exclude evidence of his minor victims’ past sexual conduct. The panel stated that evidence offered to prove that a victim engaged in other sexual behavior is generally inadmissible in proceedings involving allegations of sexual misconduct. Young, however, argued that the exclusion of his evidence violated his Sixth Amendment right to prove his defense, that his victims had previously worked as prostitutes before he met them. The panel stated the district court properly rejected Young’s challenge. The panel noted that even if Young was able to prove that he had not knowingly “coerced” his victims, it would not have helped his case as coercion is not an element of the federal crime of sex trafficking when the victim is a minor.

Young also argued the district court erroneously instructed the jury on the interstate commerce element of the offense. Young argued that the posited connections of his offense to interstate commerce, his usage of hotels that served interstate travelers, his provision of condoms manufactured outside the state of Illinois to his victims and his use of the internet to place advertisements, were too flimsy to support his conviction. The panel rejected Young’s challenge to the instructions, finding the instructions properly comported with the broad language of Sec. 1591.

Next, Young argued that even if the jury instructions on the interstate commerce element were proper, insufficient evidence existed at trial to prove the interstate element. The panel rejected this argument. The panel noted that Young had a compelling argument with respect to the relevance of his use of hotels and condoms, as the government had failed to present credible evidence of the interstate nature of the hotels used by Young, or the origin of the condoms he provided to his victims. However, the panel stated that the government had enough evidence with respect to Young’s use of the internet to place advertisements to support conviction. The panel stated that the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Young used the internet in furtherance of his offenses against all four victims of sex trafficking. The panel concluded that Young had presented no evidence of reversible error and it therefore affirmed the decision of the district court.

United States v. Allen Young
No. 18-3679
Writing for the court: Judge Amy Coney Barrett
Concurring: Chief Judge Diane P. Wood and Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner
Released: April 7, 2020

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