Monday, September 21, 2015

“Innocent Round Trip” Exception Not Applicable to Violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b)

In United States v. Schneider, Nos. 12-1145 and 13-1491, 2015 WL 5235131 (3dCir., Sept. 9, 2015), Defendant was charged with one count of traveling in foreign commerce for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b) (2000), and one count of transporting an individual in foreign commerce with the intent that such individual engage in illegal sexual activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2421 (2000).

Defendant was an American attorney and philanthropist who initiated a sexual relationship with an underaged ballet dancer from Russia whom he sponsored. Defendant met the young dancer when he was 12 years old. By the time the dancer was 14 years old, he and Defendant were living together in Moscow. Defendant and the young ballet dancer traveled between the United States and Russia twice to allow the young dancer to study ballet. Eventually, the dancer’s family learned about the relationship and filed a civil suit against Defendant in 2009. However, when law enforcement officials learned about the relationship, the civil suit was stayed and federal criminal charges were filed against Defendant in 2010.

At trial, the jury convicted Defendant of the traveling charge under § 2423(b), but found Defendant not guilty of the transporting charge under § 2421. The jury based its acquittal on the “innocent round trip” exception to § 2421, as enunciated in Mortensen v. United States, 322 U.S. 369 (1944). Defendant appealed his conviction under § 2423(b) on several grounds.

Defendant challenged the trial court’s refusal to apply the “innocent round trip” exception to his transporting charge under § 2423(b). As a matter of first impression in the Third Circuit, the court ruled that the “innocent round trip” exception did not apply to a charge of transporting under § 2423(b) . In Mortensen, the defendants operated a brothel. On one occasion, the defendants took a vacation, accompanied by two women employed at the brothel. However, no illegal sexual conduct occurred during the vacation. The Supreme Court concluded that the trip at issue was a “complete break or interlude” in the illicit sexual  activity. As the trip was “not undertaken for immoral ends,” it did not violated § 2421.

Defendant argued that the court should interpret § 2421 and § 2423(b) similarly. While both statutes involve traveling with the intent or purpose to engage in illegal sexual activity, the court concluded that the prohibited conduct under each statute was sufficiently dissimilar. Specifically, the Third Circuit ruled that, unlike the trip in Mortensen, Defendant’s trips did not constitute a “complete break or interlude” in the illicit sexual conduct. To the contrary, the court concluded that Defendant hosted the trips as part of his ongoing scheme to maintain his sexual relationship with the young ballet dancer.

The Third Circuit also upheld the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment as untimely under the federal statute of limitations, concluding that Defendant’s conduct fell under the exception provided by 18 U.S.C. § 3283, which extends the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse offenses. The Third Circuit rejected Defendant’s challenge to the trial court’s refusal to admit evidence regarding his inability to seek proper medical treatment for a non-life threatening condition during his pre-trial incarceration. The Third Circuit also upheld to the trial court’s admission of excerpts from a film which Defendant had shown to the young dancer/victim, depicting a similar relationship between a young dancer and an older patron. The Third Circuit also concluded that Defendant had not met his burden to prove newly discovered evidence regarding the victim’s deposition testimony from the civil suite required a new trial. The Third Circuit also upheld the lower court’s application of the cross reference under U.S.S.G. §§ 2A3.2(c)(1) and 2A3.1, related to child sexual abuse offenses.  

Friday, September 04, 2015

Court examines White v. Woodall, reaffirms grant of habeas relief due to Bruton violation.

Washington v. Secretary, No. 12-2883, 2015 WL 5103330 (3d Cir. Sept. 1, 2015),

In an opinion by Judge Fisher, the panel reaffirms its earlier decision granting habeas relief because of a Bruton violation.  At Washington's trial, the prosecution introduced a statement by his codefendant that redacted Washington's name and replaced it with generic terms.  One codefendant, Taylor, testified that Washington was the driver, who stayed in the car while two other accomplices entered, shot and killed two store employees, and stole cash from a safe.  Taylor claimed Washington entered the store following the shootings and helped remove the cash.  Taylor testified at trial and was impeached on cross-examination.  Then a detective read a redacted version of the confession of a non-testifying codefendant, Waddy, in which Washington's and a fourth defendant's names were replaced with phrases like "they guy who went into the store" and "the driver."
The district court and the 3d Circuit granted habeas relief, relying on the combined holdings of Bruton, Richardson v. Marsh, and Gray v. Maryland for the proposition that no reasonable reading of those cases can tolerate a redaction that would be "transparent to the jurors."  Here, the redactions were transparent because Taylor had explicitly identified Washington as the driver.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated, and remanded for further consideration in light of White v. Woodall(which held that a state court decision merely declining to "extend" a SCTOUS precedent cannot be an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law under AEDPA).

 Judge Fisher acknowledges how difficult the AEDPA "unreasonable application" test is to meet, and stresses that "applying a general standard to a sepcific case can demand a substantial element of judgment," requiring deference by habeas courts.  In his reading, the distinction between Richardson v. Marsh, which upheld the use of a redacted confession, and Gray v. Maryland, which disapproved it, was that in Richardson the redactions removed all mention of the existence of the nonconfessing defendant.
“Taken together, the current state of the law is that there is a Confrontation Clause violation when a non-testifying codefendant’s confession is introduced that names another codefendant, Bruton, 391 U.S. at 126, or that refers directly to the existence of the codefendant in a manner that is directly accusatory, Gray, 523 U.S. at 193-94. That is because such statements present a ‘substantial risk that the jury, despite instructions to the contrary, [will] look[] to the incriminating extrajudicial statements in determining [the defendant’s] guilt.’ Bruton, 391 U.S. at 126. But there is no violation if the confession is properly redacted to omit any reference at all to the codefendant, making it more likely that the jury will be able to follow the court’s instruction to disregard this evidence in rendering its verdict. Richardson, 481 U.S. at 208, 211. It is against this background that we assess whether the Pennsylvania Superior Court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law.” 
In Fisher's view, this is not a “close call” case that is subject to “fairminded disagreement.”  The Superior Court applied a blanket rule providing that a redaction was permissible as long as the jury had to apply an additional piece of information outside the confession to link it to the nonconfessing defendant.  This rule is "not a reasonable view of the law."
Fisher goes on to explain why, in contrast to Woodall, the state court ruling was not a mere refusal to extend the Bruton rule to a new context.
Thanks to Claudia Van Wyk, for providing this summary.

Third Circuit Finds Defendant Was Not Seized Where He Briefly Paused and Raised Hands Before Fleeing

In United States v. Amos , ---F. 4th---, 2023 WL 8636910 (3d Cir. Dec. 14, 2023), the Third Circuit affirmed a district court's denial o...