Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jury instruction challenge fails in sex trafficking appeal

US v. Banker:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit heard Banker’s appeal of his convictions for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor, sex trafficking of a minor, and enticement of a minor for illegal sexual activity.  Chiefly, he contended that his jury had been instructed improperly on the scienter element of each offense because they require proof that he knew the victim was a minor.  Secondly, he argued the insufficiency of the evidence.  The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

To reach its decision, the Fourth Circuit agreed with the government’s arguments that unpublished opinions from this Circuit and sister circuits have held that the element of age can be proven by either “knowledge” or “reckless disregard,” a position consistent, according to the Fourth Circuit, with the wording and punctuation of the pertinent statutes.  Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit held that the district court did not err in its instructions to the jury as to the scienter elements of the offenses.  Further, the government had to prove only that the victim was a minor, not that the defendant had actual knowledge of that fact. 

With respect to the sufficiency of evidence at trial, the Fourth Circuit found that Banker could not meet his burden to disrupt the jury’s verdict, as testimony from his co-conspirator and victim, as well as “numerous” other pieces of evidence, including Facebook posts, supported a finding that Banker recklessly disregarded the victim’s age.  The evidence at trial, according to the Fourth Circuit, readily satisfied the standard, i.e., supported a rational determination of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 

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