People v. Lamb, 77

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Citation182 N.E.3d 1080,162 N.Y.S.3d 288,37 N.Y.3d 1174
Decision Date16 December 2021
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Michael LAMB, Appellant.
Docket Number77

37 N.Y.3d 1174
182 N.E.3d 1080
162 N.Y.S.3d 288

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,
Michael LAMB, Appellant.

No. 77

Court of Appeals of New York.

December 16, 2021

182 N.E.3d 1081
162 N.Y.S.3d 289

Robert S. Dean, Center for Appellate Litigation, New York City (Mark W. Zeno of counsel), for appellant.

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney, New York City (John T. Hughes, Jonathan Krois and Patrick J. Hynes of counsel), for respondent.



37 N.Y.3d 1175

The order of the Appellate Division should be modified by vacating defendant's convictions for sex trafficking and ordering a new trial on those counts and, as so modified, affirmed.

The sex trafficking statute is comprised of two distinct but linked elements, namely the offender must advance or profit from prostitution by one of the enumerated coercive acts (see Penal Law § 230.34 ). The trial court's supplemental instruction, in response to a jury note, erroneously severed the required link between those elements. Accordingly, defendant's sex trafficking convictions should be vacated, and a new trial held on those counts (see People v. Brown , 87 N.Y.2d 950, 951, 641 N.Y.S.2d 225, 663 N.E.2d 1255 [1996] ).

The trial court's error in the supplemental instruction was unrelated to defendant's remaining conviction for promoting prostitution in the third degree and does not require vacatur of that count (see People v. Walston , 23 N.Y.3d 986, 990, 991 N.Y.S.2d 24, 14 N.E.3d 377 [2014] ).

Defendant's remaining claims are either rendered academic by our decision or without merit.

SINGAS, J. (concurring).

Defendant stands convicted of two sex trafficking counts and one count of promoting prostitution in the third degree. Although there was a legally sufficient basis for the trial court to submit the question of territorial jurisdiction to prosecute defendant for the crime of sex trafficking to the jury, the court's supplemental instruction, in response to a jury note, erroneously severed the required link between the elements of that crime. Because the instruction was misleading and prejudicial, we would modify the judgment by vacating defendant's sex trafficking convictions.


In January 2013, defendant began promoting a prostitution

37 N.Y.3d 1176

business by advertising

182 N.E.3d 1082
162 N.Y.S.3d 290

online. Over the course of 30 months, he posted thousands of online advertisements in both New York and New Jersey. Defendant paid for these advertisements, which solicited both clients and young women to be prostituted, through an account registered to an address in Manhattan. Certain postings offered housing, transportation, employment, and financial assistance to young homeless women, including those living at Covenant House, an association of youth shelters with locations in New York and New Jersey. The advertisements listed a website, a New York-based Twitter handle, a phone number (registered to defendant at the same Manhattan address), and email addresses. His website described the business as an "escort provider of New York City and Tri-State area," and boasted that he offered "the Best NYC/NJ Escorts available."

In June 2013, a 22-year-old woman, KT, answered one of defendant's online escort advertisements. At defendant's request, KT emailed three photographs of herself. Defendant then arranged an "audition" at a hotel in Manhattan. He instructed KT as to what clothing she should bring, including a bathing suit. At the hotel, KT changed into the bathing suit. She and defendant then had sex so that he could "test the merchandise." That day, KT saw another woman enter defendant's hotel room, other men arriving to have sex with the woman for money, and the woman handing defendant a "cut" of the money earned.

Defendant also photographed KT and immediately posted an advertisement with the photographs so that she could start working right away. He ultimately listed multiple ads specifically featuring her photograph and listing her location as "Midtown West." Over several months, KT performed sexual acts in Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey. Defendant required her to charge $120 for thirty minutes or $300 per hour and to give that money to another "employee" who was also defendant's girlfriend. KT ultimately helped manage defendant's prostitution business by screening the women who answered the escort advertisements and reporting back to defendant for his ultimate approval of the women he would employ. KT's phone number was the contact point for clients responding to the ads. She directed the women where to meet the clients, including in Manhattan.

In April 2015, then-18-year-old JC reached out by email to defendant, believing that she was responding to an advertisement for a hostess or catering job. Defendant arranged a meeting and instructed her to bring a "club dress." As JC had no

37 N.Y.3d 1177

means of transportation, defendant sent a car to transport her to his New Jersey apartment. In the apartment, JC changed into the dress and posed for photographs that defendant said were for a "portfolio." When defendant asked to photograph JC naked, she realized that he wanted her to prostitute herself. JC asked to leave, but defendant signaled that he had a gun in the couch and would shoot or hit her if she did not comply. JC then allowed defendant to photograph her partially clothed. She also drank alcohol at defendant's behest and blacked out. JC's next memory was of defendant dragging her down the stairs outside his apartment. He put JC in a car and the driver took her home. A later search of defendant's phone revealed additional photographs of JC, taken while she was unconscious and for which she did not remember posing.

Over the course of the next several days, defendant and JC exchanged emails in which JC begged defendant to stop contacting her and defendant made increasingly menacing demands. Defendant

162 N.Y.S.3d 291

threatened to physically hurt JC and her

182 N.E.3d 1083

family (either by himself or through his "goons") or circulate the nude photographs to her friends, family, potential employers, and prospective colleges if she refused to work for him as a prostitute. To magnify the immediacy of his threats, defendant told JC her father's name, the color of her front door, and where she went to school. He stated that he had "all [her] personal info." In the emails, defendant sent the photographs of JC, as well as pictures he had taken, without her knowledge, of her high school ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card. Defendant stopped contact with JC after she told him that his threats had induced her to attempt suicide. According to JC, defendant never indicated that he planned for JC to prostitute herself in New York and JC never traveled to New York at defendant's behest.

In June 2014, Covenant House contacted the New York County District Attorney's Office regarding defendant's advertisements targeting young homeless women. The District Attorney's Office began an investigation, obtaining business records from banks as well as telephone and internet companies. In September 2015, an indictment was filed charging defendant with promoting prostitution in the third degree and two counts of sex trafficking as to JC, as well as one count of sex trafficking as to JS, another woman whom defendant was alleged to have threatened, in New Jersey, with public humiliation if she refused to work for his escort service.

37 N.Y.3d 1178

During trial, defendant disputed whether New York had territorial jurisdiction over the sex trafficking charges against him under CPL 20.20 on the theory that the coercive conduct toward the victims occurred wholly in New Jersey. Defendant's pretrial motion to dismiss the indictment on that basis was denied. In defendant's motion for a trial order of dismissal, he repeated the argument that the People had not established territorial jurisdiction because the victims "had absolutely no contact in New York." Supreme Court also denied that motion. Nevertheless, as required by law ( People v. McLaughlin , 80 N.Y.2d 466, 591 N.Y.S.2d 966, 606 N.E.2d 1357 [1992] ), the court submitted the territorial jurisdiction question to the jury for each sex trafficking count, charging:

"The prosecution has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the State of New York has jurisdiction to prosecute the crime by proving beyond a reasonable doubt either that [defendant] engaged in conduct in the State of New York which constituted at least one element of the crime or that his conduct constituted an attempt to commit the crime in this state."

If the jury determined that the People had proved that one element of the crime, or an attempt to commit the crime, took...

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