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March 25 — The scope of the foreign commerce clause and the constitutionality of a statute aimed at protecting international sex trafficking victims were both interpreted for the first time by the Eleventh Circuit March 24.
Congress and the courts do have power to force an international sex trafficker living in the U.S. to pay restitution to one of his victims for her prostitution in Australia, Judge William H. Pryor Jr.'s opinion said.
It's the first time any federal appeals court has ruled on the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, 18 U.S.C. §1596, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said.
Damion St. Patrick Baston, also known as “Drac” because he dressed as a vampire, was sentenced to 27 years in jail for sex trafficking by force and ordered to pay restitution to several victims.
However, the district court refused to award a victim the money she earned while prostituting for Baston in Australia, a ruling the Eleventh Circuit reversed.
Federal law requires a person convicted of sex trafficking by force to pay all the victim's losses, the court said.
The court rejected Baston's argument that it's unconstitutional for Section 1596(a)(2) to confer “extraterritorial jurisdiction” over such trafficking by a noncitizen in the U.S.
The act falls within Congress's enumerated powers under the foreign commerce clause, intended by the founders to have a greater scope than the interstate commerce clause, the court said.
Section 1596(a)(2)'s constitutionality can be evaluated by assuming that the foreign commerce clause has the same scope as the interstate commerce clause, the court said.
Congress had a rational basis to find that international sex trafficking by force is part of an “economic class of activities” that have a substantial effect on commerce between the U.S. and other countries, it said.
Accordingly, Section 1596(a)(2) is a valid exercise of Congress's authority, the appeals court said, remanding for the district court to increase the restitution award.
Judges Peter T. Fay and Eduardo C. Robreno, sitting by designation from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, joined the opinion.
The U.S. Attorney's Office represented the government. The Federal Public Defender's Office represented Baston.
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