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.  

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