United States v. Maldonado-Burgos, Criminal No. 14–336 (DRD).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
Writing for the CourtDANIEL R. DOMÍNGUEZ, District Judge.
Citation130 F.Supp.3d 498
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff v. Edwin MALDONADO–BURGOS, Defendant.
Decision Date08 September 2015
Docket NumberCriminal No. 14–336 (DRD).

130 F.Supp.3d 498

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff
v.
Edwin MALDONADO–BURGOS, Defendant.

Criminal No. 14–336 (DRD).

United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.

Signed Sept. 8, 2015.


130 F.Supp.3d 499

Marshal D. Morgan, United States Attorneys Office, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiff.

Hector E. Guzman–Silva, Victor J. Gonzalez–Bothwell, Federal Public Defender's Office, Hato Rey, PR, for Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

DANIEL R. DOMÍNGUEZ, District Judge.

"The legal relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States is far from

130 F.Supp.3d 500

clear and fraught with controversy." United States v. Lopez Andino, 831 F.2d 1164, 1168 (1st Cir.1987). The case at bar demonstrates the inherent difficulties that frequently occur when a court is called upon to discern the jurisdictional reach of a federal law in Puerto Rico. Today, the undersigned becomes the second District Judge to rule that 18 U.S.C. § 2421(a)does not criminalize conduct occurring entirely within Puerto Rico.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL OVERVIEW

Edwin Maldonado–Burgos (hereinafter "Defendant") is currently charged with two counts of committing the following criminal conduct:

knowingly transport[ing] ... a then 18 year-old severely mentally disabled female within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, which is a Territory and Possession of the United States, in a school bus, with the intent that she engage in sexual activity constituting a criminal offense under the Laws of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.... All in violation of [18 U.S.C. § 2421(a)]. (emphasis provided).

Docket No. 11 (Indictment). The germane segment of the underlying criminal statute relied upon by the Government reads as follows:

Transportation generally

(a) In general.—Whoever knowingly transports any individual in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, with intent that such individual 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 10 years, or both. (emphasis provided).

18 U.S.C. § 2421. It should be emphasized that, pursuant to the indictment's own phraseology, the illegal transportation was effectuated entirely "within" Puerto Rico.

While the instant case was pending, however, a separate, unrelated case with a similarly phrased charge was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds by another judge in this district, the Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí. Relying on the plain language of § 2421(a), Judge Gelpí deemed the statute to be unenforceable with respect to intra-commonwealth transportation. See United States v. Mercado–Flores, 109 F.Supp.3d 467, 2015 WL 3764518 (D.P.R.2015); and United States v. Mercado–Flores, Slip Copy, 2015 WL 4132355 (D.P.R.2015)(denying motion for reconsideration).

Consequently, Defendant's counsel, ever vigilant of cutting-edge statutory interpretation, filed a motion to dismiss for precisely the same reasons relied upon by Judge Gelpí. See Docket No. 85. In fact, the only substance to Defendant's concise motion is an attachment, which is a copy of Judge Gelpí's aforementioned Opinion and Order.1 The Government responded with a noteworthy opposition and a subsequent addendum containing a recent First Circuit

130 F.Supp.3d 501

opinion. See Docket Nos. 90 and 91. The Government claims that Puerto Rico is a "territory" under § 2421(a); hence, notwithstanding Puerto Rico's commonwealth title, the statute should continue to apply to transportation occurring entirely within Puerto Rico. Thus, the time has now arrived for this Court to determine the jurisdictional reach of § 2421(a). Beneath the surface of this inquiry is the ever-evolving political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

II. SYNOPSIS OF PUERTO RICO'S POLITICAL EVOLUTION2

"We readily concede that Puerto Rico occupies a relationship to the United States that has no parallel in our history." Examining Bd. of Engineers, Architects and Surveyors v. Flores, 426 U.S. 572, 596, 96 S.Ct. 2264, 49 L.Ed.2d 65 (1976). Well over a century ago, on December 10, 1898, the United States "acquired" Puerto Rico from Spain by way of a peace treaty that ended the Spanish–American War.3 In the aftermath of this acquisition, Puerto Rico "became subject to Congress' plenary authority under the Territorial Clause of the Constitution." Trailer Marine Transport Corp. v. Rivera Vazquez, 977 F.2d 1, 6–7 (1st Cir.1992); U.S. Const. Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2.4

Following "[a] brief interlude of military control," on April 12, 1900, Congress enacted the Foraker Act, which established a temporary government in Puerto Rico. See 31 Stat. 77; see also Calero–Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 671, 94 S.Ct. 2080, 40 L.Ed.2d 452 (1974). By virtue of the Foraker Act, the United States retained considerable control over the affairs of Puerto Rico and its citizens. Id. The subsequent stage in this political progression was the Jones Act, which was enacted on March 2, 1917. See 39 Stat. 951. The Jones Act arranged for the residents of Puerto Rico to have somewhat more authority over their local affairs, along with many of the United States' constitutional protections—albeit in a statutory fashion. The highlights of the Jones Act were the restructuring of the government in Puerto Rico, the creation of a local bill of rights, and the granting of American citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico.5 Id. "The aim of the Foraker Act and the

130 F.Supp.3d 502
Jones] Act was to give Puerto Rico full power of local self-determination with an autonomy similar to that of the states and incorporated territories." People of Puerto Rico v. Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253, 261–62, 58 S.Ct. 167, 82 L.Ed. 235 (1937)(citing Gromer v. Standard Dredging Co., 224 U.S. 362, 370, 32 S.Ct. 499, 56 L.Ed. 801 (1912); People of Porto Rico v. Rosaly y Castillo, 227 U.S. 270, 274, 33 S.Ct. 352, 57 L.Ed. 507 (1913)). Aiming to further increase Puerto Rico's autonomy, subsequently, on August 5, 1947, Congress enacted the Elective Governor Act, "which allowed the residents of Puerto Rico to elect their own governor, within the framework previously set by the Foraker and Jones Acts." Mercado–Flores, 109 F.Supp.3d at 470, 2015 WL 3764518 *3. "Up to this moment, under both Spanish and American control of the island, Puerto Ricans had never elected the island's governor." Id.

The evolution continued on July 3, 1950, when the Federal Relations Act was enacted. See Pub.L. 600 (specifically 48 U.S.C. § 731 et seq. ). "This legislation, offered in the 'nature of a compact,' " authorized the people of Puerto Rico to draft their own constitution, with the conditions that it "shall provide a republican form of government and shall include a bill of rights." Examining Bd., 426 U.S. at 593, 96 S.Ct. 2264; see also 48 U.S.C. §§ 731band 731c. "Congress approved the proposed constitution after adding, among other things, a condition that any amendment or revision of the document be consistent with 'the applicable provisions of the Constitution of the United States.' " Examining Bd., 426 U.S. at 593–94, 96 S.Ct. 2264; 66 Stat. 327.6 "The condition was accepted, the compact became effective, and Puerto Rico assumed 'Commonwealth' status. This resulted in the repeal of numerous provisions of the [Jones] Act of 1917, including the bill of rights that Act contained." (emphasis provided). Id. "The congressional intent behind the approval of the Puerto Rico Constitution was that the Constitution would operate to organize a local government and its adoption would in no way alter the applicability of United States laws and federal jurisdiction in Puerto Rico."

United States v. Quinones, 758 F.2d 40, 43 (1st Cir.1985). The Supreme Court also recounted the congressional intent behind this legislation:
[T]he purpose of Congress in the 1950 and 1952 legislation was to accord to Puerto Rico the degree of autonomy and independence normally associated with States of the Union, and accordingly, Puerto Rico "now 'elects its Governor and legislature; appoints its judges, all cabinet officials, and lesser officials in the executive branch; sets its own educational policies; determines its own

[130 F.Supp.3d 503

budget; and amends its own civil and criminal code.' "

Examining Bd., 426 U.S. at 594, 96 S.Ct. 2264.

Notwithstanding this "Commonwealth" label, the Supreme Court has continued to recognize that Congress "is empowered under the Territory Clause of the Constitution ... to 'make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory ... belonging to the United States.' " Harris v. Rosario, 446 U.S. 651, 652, 100 S.Ct. 1929, 64 L.Ed.2d 587 (1980); see also Califano v. Gautier Torres, 435 U.S. 1, 3 n. 4, 98 S.Ct. 906, 55 L.Ed.2d 65 (1978); Juan R. Torruella, The Supreme Court and Puerto Rico: The Doctrine of Separate and Unequal (1985); Juan R. Torruella, ¿Hacia Donde Vas Puerto Rico?, 107 Yale L.J. 1503 (1998); Juan R. Torruella, The Insular Cases: The Establishment of a Regime of Political Apartheid, 29 U. Pa. J. Int'l L. 283 (2007);...

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3 practice notes
  • United States v. Lebrón-Caceres, CRIMINAL NO. 15-279 (PAD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • January 14, 2016
    ...Rico because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth, albeit one subject to the Territorial Clause. See , United States v. Maldonado–Burgos , 130 F.Supp.3d 498, 2015 WL 5227480 (D.P.R. September 8, 2015) (so concluding).Both Mercado–Flores and Maldonado–Burgos4 rely in part on Córdova & Simopietri In......
  • Robert Reiser & Co. v. Scriven, Civil Action No. 15-11746-FDS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • September 17, 2015
    ...a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss." Perez–Acevedo v. Rivero–Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir.2008). It differs from a Rule 12(b)(6) 130 F.Supp.3d 498motion primarily because it is filed after the close of pleadings and "implicates the pleadings as a whole." Aponte–Torres v. University of Pu......
  • United States v. Rivera-Hernández, CRIMINAL NO. 15-00361 (GAG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 18, 2015
    ...(providing overview of legislative and jurisprudential evolution of Puerto Rico status); United States v. Maldonado–Burgos , 130 F.Supp.3d 498, 501–03, 2015 WL 5227480, at *2–3 (D.P.R.2015).Instead, the court must rely on clear First Circuit precedent in determining whether the Sherman Act ......
3 cases
  • United States v. Lebrón-Caceres, CRIMINAL NO. 15-279 (PAD)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • January 14, 2016
    ...Rico because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth, albeit one subject to the Territorial Clause. See , United States v. Maldonado–Burgos , 130 F.Supp.3d 498, 2015 WL 5227480 (D.P.R. September 8, 2015) (so concluding).Both Mercado–Flores and Maldonado–Burgos4 rely in part on Córdova & Simopietri In......
  • Robert Reiser & Co. v. Scriven, Civil Action No. 15-11746-FDS
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • September 17, 2015
    ...a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss." Perez–Acevedo v. Rivero–Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir.2008). It differs from a Rule 12(b)(6) 130 F.Supp.3d 498motion primarily because it is filed after the close of pleadings and "implicates the pleadings as a whole." Aponte–Torres v. University of Pu......
  • United States v. Rivera-Hernández, CRIMINAL NO. 15-00361 (GAG)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 18, 2015
    ...(providing overview of legislative and jurisprudential evolution of Puerto Rico status); United States v. Maldonado–Burgos , 130 F.Supp.3d 498, 501–03, 2015 WL 5227480, at *2–3 (D.P.R.2015).Instead, the court must rely on clear First Circuit precedent in determining whether the Sherman Act ......

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