9th Circuit affirms conviction, sentence of 19 years, 7 months


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed the conviction and a prison sentence of 19 years and seven months slapped against Chang Ru Meng Backman, a former karaoke operator convicted of sex trafficking.

The Ninth Circuit panel held that because the statute does not require commission of a sex act, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona correctly did not give an instruction requiring the jury to find that the alleged coercion was the “but-for cause” of the victim’s commercial sex acts.

“But-for cause” is also known as legal cause.

According to the Ninth Circuit’s opinion penned by Judge Susan Graber, sufficient evidence supported the jury’s finding of an effect on interstate commerce.

The Ninth Circuit judges held that Manglona did not abuse her discretion in denying Backman’s motion to admit, under Federal Rules of Evidence, evidence that the victims engaged in prostitution after the indictment period, where the motion did not specify the evidence sought to be admitted.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that Manglona did not abuse her discretion in denying Backman an 11th-hour opportunity to amend her motion pertaining to admissibility of evidence.

The Ninth Circuit held that exclusion of the proferred evidence was within constitutional bounds because the exclusion was neither arbitrary nor disproportionate to the purposes of the notice requirement, in that the district court could not conduct the in camera review and hearing mandated by Rule 412 without knowledge of the identity of the victims and the nature of the evidence.

The Ninth Circuit panel held that Manglona correctly applied a vulnerable victim sentencing enhancement under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

Attorney David G. Banes is counsel for Backman, a Chinese woman. Assistant U.S. attorneys Garth R. Backe and Ross K. Naughton appeared for the U.S. government.

Backman appealed, asking the Ninth Circuit to reverse her conviction and sentence on one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion.

On June 7, 2013, the jurors found Backman guilty of one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, but acquitted her of two counts of same charges involving two other women.

The jury convicted Backman of forcing into prostitution a Chinese woman, who had been tricked into flying to Saipan on promises of a work visa and a legal job, when in fact the victim received only a tourist visa, was effectively imprisoned, and was told repeatedly that she had nowhere to turn and must engage in prostitution.

In February 2014, Manglona sentenced Backman.

On appeal, defendant argues that, under two recent Supreme Court decisions, the jury instructions were improper; that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction; that the district court erred in denying her motion under Federal Rule of Evidence 412 to admit evidence of the victim’s sexual conduct after the indictment period.

She also argues that the district court erred by applying a sentencing enhancement for a “vulnerable victim” under the Sentencing Guidelines.

In his sentencing memorandum, attorney Joaquin Torres, the original counsel for Backman, said during the trial, there was no evidence that Backman knew that a customer would force, threat of force, fraud, or coerce the victim to engage in commercial sex.

Torres said there was no evidence that Backman was in reckless disregard that force, threat of force, fraud, or coercion would be used against the victim by the customer.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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