Fourth Circuit Affirms Sex Trafficking Convictions

US v. Michael Lawrence Maynes (No. 16-4732)

“Michael Maynes was a pimp,” this opinion begins. It quickly goes downhill for the appellant from there.

Maynes was convicted of sex trafficking by use of force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a). The allegations in this case were that Maynes convinced several women to work for him as prostitutes based on false promises and threats.

On appeal, Maynes first argues that the trial court erred by failing to give a jury instruction regarding the “materiality” of the alleged fraud that caused the women to work as prostitutes for Maynes. At trial, Maynes sought an instruction that fraud is an “act of trickery or deceit especially when involving misrepresentation; such specific act of fraud must have been material to cause a person to engage in a commercial sex act.” The district court refused to give this instruction. The Fourth Circuit holds that the substance of Maynes’ requested instruction was conveyed elsewhere, when the district court instructed the jury that an element of the offense was “that the defendant acted in knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that means of force, threads of force, fraud, coercion, or any combination of such means would be used to cause that person to engage in a commercial sex act.” The Fourth Circuit reasons that based on the court’s definition of fraud (“any act of deception or misrepresentation”), “by definition, only material misrepresentations could be used to cause a person to engage in such acts.”

Next, Maynes argues that the evidence present at trial was insufficient to sustain his convictions. The Fourth Circuit quickly dispenses with this claim, stating: “the evidence showed that [Maynes] convinced women to work for him through a variety of material misrepresentations, such as false promises to provide the women with homes and incomes. And once the women were working for him, he used a variety of coercive means, such as controlling access to their children, to prevent them from leaving.”

Lastly, Maynes complains that his trial attorney’s cross examination of the government’s witnesses was unduly limited by the district court. During the testimony of the alleged victims, Maynes sought to cross examine them on their prior histories with prostitution, but the district court limited the scope of these inquiries. The Fourth Circuit, deferring to the trial court’s wide discretion in making evidentiary rulings, notes that “the district court remains in the best position to strike a balance between the relevance of the information to the defense and the risk of creating a mini-trial into the victims’ character.”

Nav Map