By Kim Sokolich
Today, in United States v. Washington, the 4th Circuit declined to change their position on the transportation of a minor for prosecution despite the Supreme Court ruling in Flores- Figueroa v. United States (2009).
In 2012, Defendant Appellant Dwane Washington met prostitute, R.C. At the time, R.C. was only fourteen years of age, but she told Washington that she was 19. Shortly after meeting, Washington became her pimp and began taking her across the south. Washington would set up online advertisements for R.C.’s services as a prostitute. He would use all of the proceeds to pay for food, lodging, and drugs. R.C. did not receive any of the money. Washington also had sex with R.C. on several occasions. During this entire time, Washington contents that he did not know that R.C. was only fourteen. Washington was eventually arrested and charged with the interstate transportation of a minor with the intent for the minor to engage in prostitution, a crime under 18 U.S.C. §2323(a).
At trial, the district court instructed the jury that ” the government did not have to prove that the defendant knew that the individual he transported across state lines was under the age of 18 at the time she was transported.” This instruction was directly in line with the previous 4th circuit decision from United States v. Jones. In Jones, the 4th Circuit held that under §2423, the government did not have to establish the defendant had knowledge of the victims age. Thus, in accordance with this instruction, the jury found Washington guilty of the charge. Washington appealed.
On appeal, Washington argued that while Jones already decided this issue, that under 2009 Supreme Court decision in Flores-Figueroa, Jones was no longer good law. InFlores-Figueroa, the Supreme Court decided that, in a case for aggravated identity theft, the statute required the defendant had some sort of mens rea requirement. The language for that statute stated that a defendant was guilty when he “knowingly transferred.” This language is identical to the minor transportation statute which talks about a person who “knowingly transports an individual who not attained the age of 18.” Washington argues that this identical language infers a mens era requirement under 2423.
The 4th Circuit, however, did not agree. Noting Justice Alito’s concurrence in the Flores-Figueroa opinion, the meaning into the a sentence’s reading is a contextual one based and that a special context will require some sort of more detailed examination that simply a textual reading of the statute. The 4th Circuit read this as the Supreme Court’s refusal to create a bright-line rule. Instead, the court found that 2423 has the “special context” Alito was talking about. The Court notes that viewed in context, the purpose of 2423 was to provide minors with special protection, not to make the provisions protecting minors even more difficult to prove. Therefore the 4th Circuit declined to change their rule from Jones and affirmed the lower court’s decision.