A day after Louisiana’s child trafficking law was declared constitutional by the state’s top court, a Baton Rouge woman who prostituted a juvenile girl through a classified advertising website was sentenced Thursday to 16 years in federal prison.
A 37-year-old Baton Rouge woman admitted to a federal judge Tuesday that she prostituted a m…
Kellie M. Dominique, 37, admitted in January that she promoted her prostitution business on Backpage.com, a classified advertising website that includes a section on escort, body rub, stripper and strip club services.
In a similar case that prompted the Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday to uphold the legality of the state’s child trafficking statute, another Baton Rouge woman — Dominick Sims, 30 — is accused in state court of using Backpage.com to prostitute a 16-year-old girl.
Sims, who has not gone to trial, contends Louisiana’s child trafficking law is contradictory because it criminalizes the knowing trafficking of juveniles for sexual purposes while also barring a defendant from claiming lack of knowledge of the victim’s age as a defense.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court deemed the entire statute constitutional and specifically found that the statutory provision allowing for a conviction without proof that the alleged sex trafficker actually knew the victim was a minor meets constitutional muster.
The 6-1 ruling reversed state District Judge Chip Moore, who struck down the provision in September.
“How can the State prohibit a defendant from knowingly committing a criminal act and, at the same time, not be required to prove defendant’s knowledge of an essential element of the crime — that being the age of the victim?” the judge asked in his ruling. “These two sections are logically antagonistic and irreconcilable.”
But in its decision reversing Moore, the Supreme Court — with only Justice Jeff Hughes dissenting — offered a bit of an English grammar lesson.
The state’s child trafficking statute, the high court noted, says it is unlawful for any person to “knowingly recruit, harbor, transport, provide, sell, purchase, receive, isolate, entice, obtain, or maintain the use of a person under the age of eighteen years for the purpose of engaging in commercial sexual activity ...”
“The word ‘knowingly’ ... is an adverb, and common usage makes clear that an adverb modifies the verbs that come after it — ‘recruit, harbor, transport, provide, sell, purchase, receive, isolate, entice, obtain, or maintain the use of a person ...’” the Justice Scott Crichton wrote for the court.
“However, ‘knowingly’ does not also modify the dependent clause ‘under the age of eighteen years of age’ that comes after, and modifies the noun ‘person,’” he added.
Crichton said Sims’ interpretation of the term ‘knowingly’ would strip the statute of its clear purpose — the protection of minors — and allow adults to prey upon minors so long as they cultivate ignorance of their victims’ age. The state statute exists to provide special protection for all minors, especially those who could too easily be mistaken for adults, he said.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office defended the case before the Louisiana Supreme Court.
“Child victimization is a real problem in Louisiana, and I will do all that I can to fight it. My office and I are committed to preventing crime and apprehending criminals, especially human traffickers and child predators,” said Attorney General Jeff Landry.
U.S. Attorney Walt Green, whose office prosecuted Kellie Dominique in the federal case, said Thursday the federal statute criminalizing sex trafficking of minors does not require prosecutors to prove a defendant knew the victim was not 18. Prosecutors need only show the defendant “has a reasonable opportunity to observe the victim,” he said.
Federal appeals courts, the state Supreme Court said, have found that the federal law criminalizing the transportation of minors across state lines for the purpose of engaging in prostitution does not require proof that a defendant knew the victim was under 18, despite the use of the term knowingly.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick imposed the 16-year prison term on Dominique, who ran a sex trafficking business from her home and other locations in 2013. She must pay the victim $15,000 in restitution and also forfeit $15,000 in illegal proceeds from the crime.
“Today’s sentence should send a loud and clear message about the severe and real consequences that face those convicted in federal court of sexually trafficking minors,” Green said.
Dominique, who faced a possible life prison term, is “extremely remorseful and wishes she could take back the harm she has caused (the girl) and the rest of her family,” said her attorney, Andre Belanger.
Last fall, a 34-year-old Zachary man, Jeremie Tate, was sentenced to more than 9 1/2 years in federal prison for using multiple prostitutes, including the minor involved with Dominique, while running a prostitution business in 2012 and 2013.
A Zachary man and a Greenwell Springs woman are under indictment on federal sex-trafficking …
Roxanne Merritt, 21, of Greenwell Springs, worked with Dominique and Tate and also was sentenced to one year in federal prison.
Dominick Sims and another Baton Rouge woman, Taniya Smith, 23, were arrested in January 2014 after employees of a Baton Rouge hotel told police men were visiting a hotel room at all hours of the day. Both women are accused of prostituting a 16-year-old girl who was found in the room.