In United States v. Williams, No. 19-11972 (July 23, 2021) (Martin, Grant, Brasher), the Court affirmed the defendant’s convictions for sex trafficking and sentence of life imprisonment.
Defendant raised three challenges to his convictions: (1) the district court improperly admitted nude images and videos of the victims; (2) there was not enough evidence to show that he had the required mens rea for his crimes against one of the victims; and (3) the district court should have instructed the jury that a victim’s consent to perform a sex act is a defense to sex trafficking.
As to the first argument, the Court only considered whether the images’ probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice because the defendant conceded that the images were relevant. The Court found the images and videos were probative and not unduly prejudicial. Though they were graphic in nature, that was unsurprising given the nature of the alleged crimes. Additionally, the district court properly cautioned potential jurors during voir dire that they would view evidence of a sexually explicit nature, and seated those jurors who confirmed that this would not impact their ability to be fair and impartial.
Next, the Court found that the government presented sufficient evidence demonstrating that the defendant knew that one of the victims was a minor at the time he trafficked her. Similarly, the government introduced sufficient evidence demonstrating that the defendant continued to coerce her to engage in a commercial sex act as an adult.
Finally, the Court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial of defendant’s proposed jury instruction because the 11th Circuit has never recognized consent as a valid defense to sex trafficking. And, in any case, the court’s instructions substantially covered the issue.
The Court also affirmed defendant’s sentence of 5 terms of life imprisonment and 240 months imprisonment (all to run concurrent), along with restitution. As to the restitution amounts, the Court found them properly calculated even though they were government estimates because they were reasonable–supported by credible evidence, including trial testimony. The Court also held that under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a victim is entitled to the “gross income” derived from her trafficking, so no offset for living expenses paid by the defendant was necessary. Finally, even though one of the victims renounced any restitution award, restitution under the TVPA is mandatory, and therefore, the court must order it. The Court acknowledged that this holding was contrary to the holding of the Tenth Circuit analyzing similar language in the MVRA.
The Court also found defendant’s life sentences substantively reasonable.