By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Nov 30 (Reuters) - A federal appeals court held
Friday that prosecutors did not need to prove a defendant in a
child sex-trafficking case knew his victim was under 18, if the
defendant had "reasonable opportunity" to observe the underage
In a case of first impression for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals, the court rejected a bid by Devon Robinson to
overturn his child sex-trafficking conviction. Robinson claimed
the government had not proven he was aware that the girl wa s
underage at the time of the crime of which he was accused.
Robinson was convicted in 2010 of trafficking a 17-year-old
girl. She testified at Robinson's trial in Brooklyn federal
court that he was her boyfriend, not her pimp, and said she told
"everybody" at the time that she was 19, according to the
The jury convicted Robinson of two counts of sex trafficking
of a minor, and he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On
appeal, he said the government could not prove he knew the
girl's age and therefore had not proven he recklessly
disregarded this information.
Robinson and the government offered competing
interpretations of Section 1591 of the Trafficking Victims
Protection Act of 2000.
That section was amended in 2008 to enable prosecution to
convict someone of child sex trafficking if he had acted in
"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."
Robinson argued that the government had to prove that he had
ample opportunity to observe the girl, and that he had
recklessly disregarded her underage status. Prosecutors
countered that they only had to prove one or the other.
The 2nd Circuit agreed with the government.
"Viewed in context, the most natural reading of this
provision is that proof that the defendant had a reasonable
opportunity to observe the victim may substitute for proof that
the defendant knew the victim's underage status," U.S. Circuit
Judge Jose Cabranes wrote in the opinion. He was joined by Judge
In a brief concurring opinion, Judge Amalya Kearse said she
would affirm Robinson's conviction but was not persuaded by the
majority's interpretation of Section 1591.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn
declined to comment. Curtis Farber, an attorney who represented
Robinson on appeal and has since been appointed as a judge in
the Kings County Criminal Court, could not be immediately
reached for comment.
The case is U.S. v. Robinson, U.S. Court of Appeals for the
2nd Circuit, No. 11-301.
For the U.S.: Sylvia Shweder and David James of the U.S.
Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York.
For Robinson: Curtis Farber.
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