Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Flanders: Life Sentences for Sex Traffickers

In U.S. v. Flanders, No. 12-10995 (May 27, 2014), the Court affirmed convictions and life sentences for defendants charged with drugging victims and filming them in sex acts to distribute on the internet, in violation of sex trafficking statutes. The Court rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. The Court noted that the jury could conclude from the videos that the women were drugged and did not engage in sex acts voluntarily. In addition, a defendant benefitted from the scheme when he sold the videos. The Court rejected the argument that the prosecutor in closing argument improperly commented on the defendant’s silence, finding that instead the prosecutor said that the defendant lied to the police. The Court also rejected a challenge to the district court’s decision to close the doors of the courthouse during closing arguments. The Court pointed out that the doors were closed only during closing argument, and credited the district court’s explanation that it had to do so in order to limit distractions to the jury. Turning to the sentences, the court found error in the district court’s application of the wrong Guidelines in grouping the offenses, but the error did not affect the defendant’s substantial rights because the correct grouping calculation would have yielded the “exact same” result. The Court affirmed the district court’s imposition of an upward departure based on the “unusually heinous” nature of the crimes, pointing out that the defendants “filmed the sexual encounters and then distributed those videos in DVDs and over the Internet.”