United States v. Wearing, No. 16-3312 (7th Cir. 2017)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Hoping to earn money as a pimp, Wearing recruited a 15‐year‐old acquaintance, KV, to work as a prostitute. He posted a Craigslist ad with her photo, took her to a hotel where he had her “audition” on him, and twice tried to arrange meetings with clients. Both assignations fell through. KV then had second thoughts and alerted her mother, who called the authorities. Wearing was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. 1591, which makes sex trafficking of children a federal crime if done “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” The court sentenced him to 180 months’ imprisonment, well below the guidelines range of 324 to 405 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Wearing’s arguments that the government failed to prove that KV had engaged in a “commercial sex act,” and that his recruitment of the victim (as opposed to the scheme as a whole) affected commerce. The statute requires that the defendant recruit the victim knowing her current age and knowing his plan to prostitute her after the recruitment. Nothing in the statute indicates that the plan must be fully carried out before conviction is possible. Wearing stipulated that the Craigslist advertisement—an integral part of his scheme—affected interstate commerce.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 16 3312 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff Appellee, v. EUGENE WEARING, Defendant Appellant. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 3:14 CR 00122 001 — William M. Conley, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED JULY 7, 2017 — DECIDED JULY 26, 2017 ____________________ Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and BAUER and FLAUM, Circuit Judges. WOOD, Chief Judge. Hoping to earn some money as a pimp, Eugene Wearing recruited a 15 year old acquaintance, KV #1, to earn money as a prostitute. He posted a Craigslist ad with her photo and twice tried to arrange a rendezvous with a cli ent. But both assignations fell through, and soon afterward KV #1 had second thoughts and alerted her mother, who called the authorities. At a bench trial Wearing was convicted 2 No. 16 3312 of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1591, which makes sex trafficking of children a federal crime if done “in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.” In this appeal Wearing challenges only the sufficiency of the evidence. He argues that the govern ment was required to, but did not, prove two critical points: (1) that KV #1 had engaged in a “commercial sex act,” and (2) that his recruitment of the victim (as opposed to the scheme as a whole) affected commerce. We find no merit in either argument, and so we affirm the conviction. I The bench trial was conducted entirely through a written stipulation. In it, Wearing admitted that he suggested to KV #1 that she could earn some money by performing oral sex. He drove her to a hotel and had her “audition” on him, after which he scheduled a client visit. But police were at the hotel for an unrelated matter, and no sexual contact took place because Wearing and the client felt that it was too risky. Later Wearing photographed KV #1 in her underwear and posted the pictures on Craigslist. He gave KV #1 a tour of an apart ment where he said “business” would take place, explaining that she would “giv[e] blowjobs” or, “if she wanted,” have intercourse with clients, though no clients joined them at that time. Wearing later took KV #1 back to the apartment; she asked to go home, but he refused, saying that she had com mitted to their arrangement and needed to do what he wanted. He then had intercourse with her and sent an e mail inviting a client (who never responded) to join them at the apartment. The parties stipulated that before her mother con tacted authorities, KV #1 had not engaged in a “commercial sex act,” which 18 U.S.C. § 1591(e)(3) defines as “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received No. 16 3312 3 by any person.” The parties also stipulated that the Craigslist posting used channels of interstate commerce. Wearing’s only defenses at trial were that a conviction un der section 1591 requires proof that the victim actually en gaged in a commercial sex act, and that the recruitment itself had to have been (but was not) accomplished through means affecting commerce. The district court rejected both points. It held that section 1591 can be violated even if a commercial sex act is never consummated, and it concluded that all of a de fendant’s actions, not just his efforts to recruit child prosti tutes, are relevant in assessing whether the statute’s com merce element is satisfied. Although violations of sec tion 1591 typically are described as “human trafficking”—the label the government used when describing Wearing’s crime—the district court sentenced him to 180 months’ im prisonment, well below the guidelines range of 324 to 405 months. The court thought that “child abuse” more accu rately describes Wearing’s offense and observed that “it’s hard for me to see this as a classic case of human trafficking.” II In this court, Wearing renews his argument that in order to convict under section 1591 the government must prove that the victim actually engaged in a commercial sex act. If the government had included a charge of attempt to traffic under 18 U.S.C. § 1594(a), which carries the same penalties as the completed offense under section 1591, we would have little to do. Wearing’s stipulation leaves no doubt that he completed every step necessary to bring about a commercial sex transac tion between KV #1 and the client at the hotel; only the fortu itous presence of the police interrupted the crime. Moreover, we recognize that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 31(c)(3) 4 No. 16 3312 says that a defendant may be found guilty of “an attempt to commit an offense necessarily included in the offense charged, if the attempt is an offense in its own right.” See also United States v. Feinberg, 89 F.3d 333, 339 (7th Cir. 1996) (explaining that lesser included offenses, such as at tempt, need not appear in indictment, so long as any depar ture from the strict terms of the indictment would neither sur prise nor prejudice the defendant). It is possible that Rule 31(c)(3) is satisfied here, since section 1594(a) provides that whoever “attempts to violate section … 1591 shall be punishable in the same manner as a completed violation of that section.” But no other circuit has excused the failure to charge under section 1594(a) in a situation such as this one. Rather than wade into a debate about charging requirements, surprise, prejudice, and the like, we prefer to turn directly to the merits. We begin with the language of the statute. At the time of the crime, section 1591 read, in relevant part: (a) Whoever knowingly— (1) in or affecting interstate or foreign com merce … recruits, entices, harbors, trans ports, provides, obtains, or maintains by any means a person … … knowing, or in reckless disregard of the fact, that … the person has not attained the age of 18 years and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act, shall be punished as pro vided in subsection (b). No. 16 3312 5 Wearing argues that the use of the future tense of the passive voice in the phrase “will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act” implies that Congress intended the completed act to be a necessary element of the crime. But his suggestion re quires us to ignore the fact that Congress chose the future tense—a choice that is inconsistent with the notion that a com mercial sex act must already have happened before a viola tion can be shown. A likelier explanation is that Congress used the passive voice as a way of signaling that the defend ant was not entitled to a pass if, instead of personally causing the victim to engage in a sex act, the defendant allowed a cli ent or a codefendant to do so. See United States v. Adams, 789 F.3d 903, 906–07 (8th Cir. 2015) (affirming mother’s con viction under section 1591 where a rational jury could have inferred that, in exchange for pills, she took daughter to friend knowing he would order daughter to engage in sex act); United States v. Jungers, 702 F.3d 1066, 1073 & n.6 (8th Cir. 2013) (concluding that use of passive voice in section 1591 “re flects ‘agnoticism … about who’ causes the child to engage in the commercial sex act” (quoting Watson v. United States, 552 U.S. 74, 80 (2007)). Wearing’s argument that “will” im plies certainty because it is more definite than “may” or “might” is inaccurate—the amicus curiae brief filed in this case from a professional linguist even observes that “[i]n its central function of referencing the future, ‘will’ is vague over a range of degrees of certainty.” The more logical reading of the phrase “knowing … the person … will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act” is that it describes the acts that the defendant intends to take— that is, that he means to “cause” the minor to engage in com mercial sex acts. That is the interpretation other circuits have adopted; they have concluded that the statute uses the future 6 No. 16 3312 tense to describe the defendant’s plan for the victim at the time he recruits her. See, e.g., United States v. Mozie, 752 F.3d 1271, 1286 (11th Cir. 2014) (accepting evidence that defendant recruited victims “to engage in commercial sex acts,” even though those acts never materialized, as sufficient to support a section 1591 conviction); United States v. Willoughby, 742 F.3d 229, 241 (6th Cir. 2014) (concluding that section 1591 offense was complete when defendant left victim at client’s home knowing she would be caused to perform a sex act); United States v. Garcia Gonzalez, 714 F.3d 306, 312 (5th Cir. 2013) (reading section 1591 to require completed sex act as es sential element “erases the meaning of ‘will be’ from” the stat ute); Jungers, 702 F.3d at 1074 (conviction under section 1591 does not require “engaging in a sex act”); United States v. Todd, 627 F.3d 329, 334 (9th Cir. 2010) (explaining that section 1591’s knowledge element means that, in committing offense, de fendant plans to force the victim to engage in a commercial sex transaction); United States v. Corley, No. 14 1709, 2017 WL 549021, at *3 (2d Cir. Feb. 9, 2017) (rejecting contention that section 1591 requires government to prove victim actually performed commercial sex act). Similar wording appears in 18 U.S.C. § 924(h), which pro hibits transferring a firearm “knowing that such firearm will be used to commit” a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime. The words “will be used” cannot logically mean that a completed crime of violence is an element of section 924(h). If a gun shop customer asks to buy a gun suitable for shooting a public official, the gun dealer who sells that firearm is guilty of the substantive offense, not just an attempt, if police stop the customer on his way to shoot the official. See United States v. Smith, 792 F.3d 760, 763, 768 (7th Cir. 2015) (affirming sec No. 16 3312 7 tion 924(h) conviction where defendant had sold firearms ex pecting that purchaser, an undercover agent posing as drug dealer, would smuggle guns to Mexico). The gun dealer in the hypothetical has completed every step of the crime. There is no reason to believe that Congress intended a conviction to turn on the customer’s success in carrying out the shooting. Similarly, Wearing completed his role under section 1591; one client’s failure to show up and the other’s change of heart say nothing about Wearing’s own actions. It is true, as amicus points out, that section 1591 also re quires knowledge of the victim’s status as a minor. Amicus reasons that this means that at some point prior to the indict ment, the commercial sex act must be completed. But it is one thing to know that a person “is” a minor, and quite another to know that the defendant “will” bring about an action in the future. In that critical sense, the two elements of the offense differ. The statute requires that the defendant recruit the vic tim knowing her current age and knowing his plan to prosti tute her after the recruitment. Nothing in the statute signals that the plan must be fully carried out before conviction is possible. Wearing next asserts that the government failed to prove that his actions affected interstate or foreign commerce as re quired by section 1591. Based on the statute’s wording, he ar gues that “in or affecting” commerce modifies only the verbs immediately following the reference to interstate commerce— that is, “recruits, entices, harbors,” etc.—and not the remain der of the statute. As a matter of first principle, one could im agine this reading of the statute, but we have not interpreted it in such a cramped way. In United States v. Campbell, we con 8 No. 16 3312 cluded that a prostitution business affected interstate com merce by using Internet and telephone services from out of state companies, advertising online, purchasing out of state supplies, and employing out of state workers. 770 F.3d 556, 574–75 (7th Cir. 2014); see also United States v. Phea, 755 F.3d 255, 263 (5th Cir. 2014) (noting that defendant had purchased phone for victim and included phone number in Internet ad vertisement, clients contacted victim at that number, and de fendant directed victim to have intercourse with prostitute from another state); Todd, 627 F.3d at 333 (concluding that sex trafficking advertised across state lines affected interstate commerce). Notably, all of these cases were decided before Congress amended the list of verbs in section 1591(a)(1) in 2015 to include “advertising” expressly. Wearing does not re spond directly to these decisions; instead he cites others in which the commerce link was too attenuated from the defend ant’s illegal activity to support federal prosecution. The latter decisions do not help him, because his assertion is that section 1591’s commerce requirement is linked to only one element of the offense—the recruitment. But there is more to the offense: the scheme to prostitute the minor. Wearing stipulated that the Craigslist advertisement—an integral part of his scheme to prostitute KV #1—affected interstate commerce. This pre cludes him from successfully maintaining that the effect of his actions on interstate commerce is so distant from his illegal activity that his actions do not add up to a federal crime. The district court thought that this was not the classic case of human trafficking as described in the statement of purpose of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, of which sec tion 1591 is part. We are not so sure; unfortunately, trafficking happens, one victim at a time, at the domestic level just as it does internationally. Congress indicated in the statement of No. 16 3312 9 purpose that it was concerned about the transnational and na tional effects of human trafficking, the role of sophisticated criminal enterprises, and the violence and isolation trafficking visits on poor women and children. 22 U.S.C. § 7101. Wearing sees his crime as indistinguishable from sexual abuse of a child or child prostitution, both punishable under the laws of Wisconsin, where this offense occurred. See WIS. STAT. §§ 948.02, 948.08. Only one victim was involved, Wearing did not isolate KV #1 from her family, and he did not transport her to another state or country. There is no reason why Wisconsin and the federal govern ment could not both have addressed this problem: overlap ping state and federal laws are nothing new. Section 1591 is a statute designed to protect minors—even one minor—from forced participation in the sex trade. The facts to which Wear ing stipulated are sufficient to support his conviction and the district court made no error of law, and so we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

Primary Holding

Seventh Circuit affirms conviction under the sex trafficking statute although defendant's plan to use a minor as a prostitute failed.

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