Defendant Datqun Sawyer was convicted of sex trafficking in violation 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a). On appeal, Sawyer admitted to forcing at least seven teenage girls he knew to be minors to work as prostitutes for his benefit but challenged his conviction on grounds that the jury was improperly instructed. Sawyer argued that the jury should have been instructed to acquit if the Government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew or intended his criminal conduct to affect interstate commerce. The Court held that the clause in 18 U.S.C. § 1591 requiring the defendant’s conduct to affect interstate commerce merely establishes the basis for Congress’s power to legislate and is not subject to any mens rea requirement. The Court explained it would be unreasonable for Congress to limit its enforcement ability to the “trifling number” of sex-traffickers who know or intend their conduct to impact interstate or international commerce as understood under Constitutional law. As such, the Court held that a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) does not require proof of the defendant’s knowledge of the implications of his conduct on interstate commerce.
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