United States v. Sawyer, No. 12-1912 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Convicted of sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1591(a), and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Sawyer admits that he forced at least seven girls whom he knew to be minors to work as prostitutes for his benefit. He argued that his conviction should be vacated because the jury was instructed improperly on one element of the offense. The Seventh Circuit rejected the argument and affirmed. By agreeing to the instructions at trial, Sawyer waived his argument. Even if he had not waived the point, the instructions were correct in explaining that the government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sawyer’s conduct affected interstate commerce to prove guilt but that Sawyer need not have known or intended that his conduct would have an effect on interstate commerce. Sawyer stipulated that his conduct had such an effect. The court rejected an argument that the jury should have been instructed to acquit if the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he actually knew or intended that his conduct affected interstate commerce. The statutory term “knowingly” does not modify “in or affecting interstate commerce,” which merely established a basis for congressional jurisdiction.