Published on:

Sufficient evidence of forcing victim to work as a prostitute in the United States and in foreign countries

In US v. Damion St. Patrick Baston (“Baston”), the Defendant worked as a pimp and forced various women to work as prostitutes in Florida and around the world while keeping the money they earned As a result he was indicted for violating 18 U.S.C. 1593 and charged in Miami federal court for sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion in Florida and in the countries of Australia and United Arab Emirates. He was also charged with several counts of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956 based his having wired the sex-trafficking proceeds from Australian to Miami.

At his trial the government called three prostitutes that worked for him as witnesses who testified how they met Baston and how he used violence and coercion to force them into prostitution. His defense what that he never coerced the woman into prostitution and they were already prostitute when they met. He said they did it freely and voluntarily and in Australia prostitution is legal trade from which they could make money.

In his appeal Baston’s challenged the sufficiency of the evidence in which he claimed that trafficking the prostitute did not fall under the statute because it was not “in or affecting interstate commerce.” The court of appeals rejected the argument finding that a rational juror could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Baston’s trafficking of the prostitute was in or affecting interstates commerce under multiple theories. Baston also argued that his actual trafficking occurred exclusively in Florida and did not affect commerce. The court rejected this argument under multiple theories: The woman traveled across state lines to get to Florida and Baston used the channels or instrumentalities of interstate commerce to facilitate the commission including use of phones, internet, hotels, buses so it was in commerce. The court also rejected Baston’s claim that a supplemental jury instruction misstated the law because it failed to explain that he could not be convicted of sex trafficking unless he knew his conduct was in or affecting commerce. It found that the sex trafficking statute does not require a defendant to know his action are in or affecting interstate commerce.

The government filed a cross appeal in which it argued that the trial court erred by refusing the award an additional $400,000 in restitution to one of the women based on her prostitution in Australia. The sex trafficking statute states that a person convicted must pay the full amount of the victim’s losses and the full amount included the gross income or value to the defendant of the victim’s services including any money that the victim earned while prostituting for the defendant. Baston argued that he did not owe her restitution for her prostitution in Australia because the restitution statute is unconstitutional because this extraterritorial conduct is beyond the reach of Congress’ authority under the U.S. Constitution. The court of appeals agreed with the government and held that the sex trafficking statute is constitutional and so is the restitution provision. The statute regulates activities that have a substantial effect on foreign commerce and Congress had a rational basis to conclude that such conduct, even when it occurs overseas, is part of the economic class of activities that have a substantial effect on commerce between the United States and other countries.