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United States v. Tyson

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

January 14, 2020

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
WILLIAM M. TYSON, Appellant

          Argued: September 11, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 1-17-cr-00316-001) District Judge: Honorable Christopher C. Conner

          John A. Abom [Argued] Abom & Kutulakis, LLC Counsel for Appellant

          David J. Freed William A. Behe United States Attorney's Office Francis P. Sempa [Argued] United States Attorney's Office Counsel for Appellee

          Before: CHAGARES, JORDAN, and RESTREPO, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          RESTREPO, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         William Tyson was indicted for the transportation of a minor to engage in prostitution and the production of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a), respectively. During pre-trial proceedings, the District Court granted the Government's motion in limine to exclude mistake-of-age evidence. Tyson and the Government then submitted a conditional plea agreement preserving his right to appeal the District Court's order. The District Court sentenced Tyson to concurrent terms of 180 months' imprisonment for each count.

         Tyson appeals the District Court's grant of the Government's motion in limine precluding him from introducing mistake-of-age evidence at trial. He argues that the District Court erred in precluding the evidence because knowledge of age is an element of § 2423(a) and § 2251(a). He also urges us to read an affirmative defense on lack of knowledge into each statute. We disagree. The statutes' text, context, and history make it clear that knowledge of age is not an element and mistake of age is not a defense. Therefore, we will affirm the District Court's order.

         I.

         In August 2017, Tyson contacted a seventeen-year-old female on Facebook to engage her in prostitution. After communicating for several days via Facebook and text messages, Tyson traveled from Pennsylvania to New York City. Tyson picked up the victim and her friend and brought them to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He then rented several rooms at a Motel 6 in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania between August 15 and August 20, 2017. Phone records reveal that Harrisburg-area individuals contacted the victim to engage in commercial sexual activity.

         On August 22, 2017, after a relative of Tyson brought the victim to a Quality Inn in New Cumberland, FBI agents and local law enforcement recovered her during a sting operation. Investigators interviewed her and reviewed her phone. They found an August 20, 2017 video of the victim performing oral sex on an adult male in a Motel 6 room. The victim identified the man in the video as "Real," whom the investigators identified as Tyson.

         On October 18, 2017, Tyson was indicted for knowingly transporting a minor to engage in prostitution in violation of § 2423(a) and producing child pornography in violation of § 2251(a). Before trial, the Government filed a motion in limine to prohibit Tyson "from eliciting evidence to establish 'mistake of age'" and from asserting "mistake of age" as an affirmative defense. App. 21. The District Court granted the motion on July 11, 2018. The Court found that evidence of mistake of age is irrelevant to § 2423(a) and § 2251(a) because the statutes do not require proof of defendants' knowledge that the victim was a minor. As a result, the Court excluded the evidence because "its probative value is substantially outweighed by a risk that the evidence will result in unfair prejudice, confuse the issues, or mislead the jury" under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. See App. 10.

         Tyson and the Government subsequently entered a plea agreement. According to its terms, Tyson and the Government agreed to recommend to the District Court that the sentences be served concurrently for a total of 180 months' imprisonment. The agreement also preserved Tyson's right to appeal the District Court's July 11, 2018 order granting the Government's motion in limine. On December 19, 2018, the District Court sentenced Tyson to 180 months' imprisonment for each count, to be served concurrently. Tyson filed a Notice of Appeal with this Court on December 24, 2018 challenging the District Court's order.

         II.

         The District Court had jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3231. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 18 U.S.C. §3742(a).

         This Court reviews decisions on the admissibility of evidence for abuse of discretion. United States v. Higdon, 638 F.3d 233, 238 (3d Cir. 2011). District court conclusions on whether "the risk of unfair prejudice does not substantially outweigh the probative value of otherwise admissible evidence" are reviewed under the same standard. Id. We exercise plenary review over legal questions and district court rulings based on interpretations of the Federal Rules of Evidence. See United States v. Schiff, 602 F.3d 152, 160-61 (3d Cir. 2010); United States v. Serafini, 233 F.3d 758, 768 ...


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