United States v. LebróN-Caceres, CRIMINAL NO. 15-279 (PAD)

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtDelgado-Hernández, District Judge.
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff, v. MARIO LEBRÓN-CACERES, Defendant.
Docket NumberCRIMINAL NO. 15-279 (PAD)
Decision Date14 January 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
MARIO LEBRÓN-CACERES, Defendant.

CRIMINAL NO. 15-279 (PAD)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO

January 14, 2016


OPINION AND ORDER

Delgado-Hernández, District Judge.

Mario Lebrón-Caceres was indicted for coercion and enticement of an individual to engage in a sexual activity, and with interstate extortion as proscribed by 18 U.S.C. § 2422(a) and § 875(d) (Docket No. 10). Before the court is Lebrón's "Motion to Dismiss Count One of the Indictment" (Docket No. 24), which the government opposed (Docket No. 29).

The motion to dismiss is predicated on the view that Puerto Rico is not a territory of the United States. A thorough purview of relevant materials shows that Puerto Rico is such a territory. See, Maysonet-Robles v. Cabrero, 323 F.3d 43, 53 (1st Cir. 2003)(describing Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory of the United States); Dávila-Pérez v. Lockheed Martin Corporation, 202 F.3d 464, 468-469 (1st Cir. 2000)(noting that Puerto Rico is a territory subject to Congressional power under the Territorial Clause); United States v. Rivera-Torres, 826 F.2d 151, 154 (1st Cir. 1987)("...Congress can, pursuant to the plenary powers conferred by the Territorial Clause, legislate as to Puerto Rico in a manner different from the rest of the United States")(citing Harris v. Rosario, 446 U.S. 651 (1980)(other internal citations omitted)). On that basis, defendant's motion is DENIED.

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To facilitate review, this Opinion has been organized under the following topics:

I. INTRODUCTION ..................................................................... 2

II. DISCUSSION .......................................................................... 3

A. Statutory Background ............................................. 3
B. Territoriality ....................................................... 10
C. Puerto Rico's Relationship with the United States ............ 14
D. Significance of Historical Developments ..................... 18
E. Congressional Intent .............................................. 26
F. Judicial Perspectives .............................................. 29
G. United Nations ..................................................... 32
H. Present Statute ...................................................... 34

III. CONCLUSION ...................................................................... 36

I. INTRODUCTION

According to the criminal complaint giving way to the Indictment, HSI-ICE agents received information that Lebrón possessed sexually explicit images of a female victim and was threatening to upload them to the internet unless she agreed to engage in sexual intercourse with him (Docket No. 1 at ¶¶ 3-4, 7). After filing a complaint with the local authorities, who in turn, consulted with HSI-ICE agents, the victim conducted a consensually monitored telephone call with Lebrón, during which the former suggested they meet in a motel in Caguas, Puerto Rico, to have sex in exchange for Lebrón's deleting the sexually-explicit images. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. Later, under the supervision of HSI-ICE agents, the victim agreed to meet Lebrón in a fast-food restaurant and go together to a motel. After Lebrón arrived at the restaurant, he was detained and subsequently charged. Lebrón now moves for dismissal of Count One under Fed.R.Crim.P. 12(b)(3). In his view, while the statute applies to Puerto Rico, it does not extend to transportation that takes place exclusively within Puerto Rico.

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II. DISCUSSION

A. Statutory Background

Section 2422 was originally enacted in 1910 as part of the Mann Act, also known as the "White Slave Traffic Act," 36 Stat. 825, Ch. 395 (1910) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421-2428). It is currently codified at Chapter 117 of Title 18 of the United States Code, titled "Transportation for Illegal Sexual Activity and Related Crimes." In 1998, Congress enacted "The Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act" to, among other things, add subsection (b), dealing with coercion and enticement of minors. Pub. L. No. 105-314, 112 Stat. 2974 (1998). Thus, Section 2422 now reads:

(a) Whoever knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, to engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

(b) Whoever, using the mail or any facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States knowingly persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, to engage in prostitution or any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.

18 U.S.C. § 2422 (emphasis added).

Because Puerto Rico is a territory, it is apparent that Section 2422(a) applies here. But, in 1998 Congress also amended Section 2423 (a) - which initially read like Section 2422(a) currently reads - to include the term "commonwealth" before "territory or possession of the United States." So amended, that section states:

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(a) Transportation with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. - A person who knowingly transports an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any commonwealth, territory or possession of the United States, with intent that the individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned not less than 10 years or for life.

18 U.S.C. § 2423(a)(emphasis added).

Now, Section 2423(a) differs from Section 2422(a) in that Section 2423(a) explicitly applies to intra-commonwealth transportation whereas Section 2422(a) does not include the term "commonwealth," instead referring to travel in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any "Territory or Possession of the United States." By extension, Lebrón argues that Puerto Rico is no longer a territory or possession of the United States but a commonwealth, and since Section 2422(a) does not contain the term "commonwealth," it does not apply to acts that take place wholly within Puerto Rico (Docket No. 24 at pp. 5, 8).1 For support, he directs the court's attention to United States v. Mercado-Flores, ---F.Supp.3d----, 2015 WL 3764518 (D.P.R. June 4, 2015).

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In that case, the defendant was charged pursuant to Section 2421 with transporting the victim solely within Puerto Rico.2 The court dismissed the count after finding that Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth, not a territory or possession. To the extent that Section 2421 makes it a federal crime to transport any individual with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity "in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States," the court held it was inapplicable to Puerto Rico.3 After Mercado-Flores, another court in this District also held that Section 2421 does not criminalize conduct occurring entirely within Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth, albeit one subject to the Territorial Clause. See, United States v. Maldonado-Burgos, ---F.Supp.3d----, 2015 WL 5227480 (D.P.R. September 8, 2015)(so concluding).

Both Mercado-Flores and Maldonado-Burgos4 rely in part on Córdova & Simopietri Insurance Agency, Inc. v. Chase Manhattan Bank N.A., 649 F.2d 36 (1st Cir. 1981). There, the First Circuit considered whether the framers of the Sherman Act of 1887 would have intended Puerto Rico to be treated as a "state" or a "territory" in light of the subsequent enactment of the Federal Relations Act, and the promulgation of the Puerto Rico Constitution in 1952. Id. at 39.

Section 1 of the Sherman Act forbids agreements "in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states," whereas Section 3(a) prohibits agreements "in restraint of trade or commerce in any Territory of the United States." 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 and 3(a). In 1937, the Supreme Court held that Section 3 applied to Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico v. Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253 (1937). In 1981,

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however, the First Circuit held that the framers of the Sherman Act would have intended to treat Puerto Rico as a "state" rather than a territory after the Federal Relations Act and the local Constitution, and for that reason, concluded that Section 3 of the Sherman Act does not apply in Puerto Rico. Córdova & Simopietri Insurance Agency, Inc., 649 F.2d at 42.5 It explained that as a general matter, the Sherman Act ceases to apply to purely local affairs once territories become states, leaving state governments free to enact various antitrust laws broadly consistent with general federal policy, but occasionally divergent as to details. Id. at 41-42. And since the Federal Relations Act and the Puerto Rico Constitution were intended to accord to Puerto Rico a degree of autonomy and independence normally associated with a State of the Union, it concluded that there was no reason of policy discernible in the Sherman Act for treating Puerto Rico differently from a state. Id. That analysis does not necessarily lead to the same conclusion here.

As previously indicated, Section 2421(a) was enacted prior to the Federal Relations Act. In consequence, it applied to Puerto Rico before that legislative milestone. See, Crespo v. United States, 151 F.2d 44 (1st Cir. 1945)(applying Mann Act to acts occurring wholly within the territories and possessions of the United States, including Puerto Rico). Still, the First Circuit has not evaluated the relationship between the current versions of Sections 2421(a) and 2423. But it examined an analogous question in United States v. Villarin-Gerena, 553 F.2d 723 (1st Cir....

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