Friday, December 22, 2006

2423(a) Conviction Does Not Require Defendant's Knowledge of Victim's Age

US v. Jones: Jones was convicted by a jury of conspiracy to transport a minor across state lines for the purposes of prostitution and three substantive counts transportation. Jones and a buddy in Ohio found a 13-year-old runaway from Wheeling, West Virginia, whom they drafted into a prostitution scheme where they would drive the girl to a truck stop in West Virginia in order to service truckers.

The Fourth Circuit upheld Jones's convictions against two attacks. First, Jones argued that the Government was required to prove that he knew the girl involved was under 18, arguing that the "knowingly" requirement in section 2423(a) applies to the age of the victim, not (or in addition to) the transportation. The Fourth rejected this argument, noting that the other Circuits were unanimous in not adopting Jones's reading. Second, the court rejected Jones's argument that statements made by the AUSA during closing arguments prejudiced his case. One statement - "if [the defense] had real evidence, don't you think they would have presented it to you?" - was not an impermissible comment on Jones's exercise of his Fifth Amendment rights, because during closing argument Jones had suggested an "alternate scenario" of events that was not supported by defense witnesses (7 of whom testified) or cross-examination of Government witnesses. The other statement - "[Y]ou can be confident that [a witness] is telling the truth about this conspiracy. You know why? Because he pled to it." - was not improper vouching because it did not convey any indication of the AUSA's personal belief in the witnesses veracity.

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