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Avoiding Duplicity: How Clean Prosecutions Dispel Arguments of Ambiguity and Insufficient Evidence
United States v. Paul, 885 F.3d 1099, 1104-05 (8th Cir. 2018)

By: EMILY SAUER

Lee Andrew Paul is a self-proclaimed pimp that recruited girls to join his sex trafficking “family.” He met his first victim, A.S. (19), at a Minnesotan hotel and persuaded her to work as his prostitute by convincing her she could make money and have fun. Instead, he pocketed all of her earnings, slammed her head against walls when she saw other men, and took her phone and ID when she tried to leave.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2013, Paul took A.S. to Rochester, Minnesota to recruit more girls. Paul found young girls to invite to a party—Z.S. (12) and K.J. (16)—and met them at McDonald’s. He took them to a Rochester motel, disregarding that they were minors, and fed them marijuana and alcohol.

The women then accompanied Paul to the Twin Cities. Once they arrived at the Starlite Motel in Columbia Heights, he told them they were going to work as his prostitutes. Z.S. was terrified and asked K.J. not to leave her. He forced both girls to have oral sex with him, and he pinned Z.S. down and brutally raped her. He threatened to ditch them on the roadside and kill them if they did not fulfill his demands.

Paul arranged for K.J. to sell sex at the Starlite Motel, but the customer never showed because police arrived at the hotel on an unrelated matter. The next morning, Paul moved them to the Select Inn in Maple Grove, Minnesota. K.J. escaped to the front desk, encountered a detective, and told him she was being forced to prostitute. A.S. tipped off Paul and he quickly fled, instructing A.S. to take Z.S. to Alexandria, Minnesota to “show her the ropes.” A.S. advertised Z.S. on Craigslist.com, and Z.S. sold sex to two men that night. Paul congratulated Z.S. on her first sexual transactions, saying he was proud that she caught on fast.

Arrest, Trial, Sentence, and Appeal

Paul hid in Chicago and Atlanta but later showed up at A.S.’s home to collect the money Z.S. earned. The police found Paul there, arrested him, and transferred him back to Minnesota to face federal charges. The prosecution charged Paul with three counts of sex trafficking under 18 U.S.C. § 1591 (one count for each victim), and after a five-day trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict in under two hours. The district court sentenced Paul to 33 years in federal prison.

Paul appealed his conviction to the Eighth Circuit arguing, namely, that the evidence to convict him was insufficient for each count and that the counts in the superseding indictment were duplicitous. The Court disagreed with Paul’s arguments and affirmed the district court’s order.

Preventing Duplicity

18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) is a multi-layer statute.1 The first layer requires a jury to find that the defendant committed a sex trafficking act.2 The act may be proven in eleven ways: where one knowingly “recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, advertises, maintains, patronizes, or solicits by any means a person; or . . . benefits, financially” or otherwise from participating in a venture.3 The jury need not unanimously agree on which act the defendant committed as long as each juror finds he committed at least one.4

The second layer focuses on the means the defendant used to commit the act, which may be proven in either of two ways: (1) knowing that force, fraud, or coercion will cause the victim to engage in a commercial sex act; or (2) knowing, or having a reasonable opportunity to observe, that the victim is under 18 and will be caused to engage in a commercial sex act.5 Jurors may need to unanimously agree on whether the act was committed with force, fraud, or coercion, or with knowledge that the victim was a minor.6 Otherwise, duplicity concerns could arise.7 The district court avoided this here by clearly instructing the jury and reflecting on the verdict form that the jury must make separate findings as to each means of committing the act.8

Was the Evidence Sufficient?

Paul argued a myriad of theories as to why the evidence to convict him was insufficient, including that he was not present for the commercial sex acts, he did not personally place advertisements online, one victim never completed a commercial sex act, and another victim’s testimony was silent as to which sex acts she performed under Paul’s influence.9 The court rejected each of Paul’s arguments, affirming that none of Paul’s assertions are required to convict a person for sex trafficking.

Key Implications

In conclusion, the Eighth Circuit’s opinion makes clear that prosecutors must continue to prove both the acts and means portions of Section 1591(a), but they need not prove more.10 In proving the act, prosecutors must ensure that district courts properly instruct jurors that they need not be unanimous on which act occurred as long as each finds the defendant committed at least one.11 The thornier portion is ensuring that jurors are properly instructed as to the means; the Eighth Circuit noted there is some ambiguity in the statute regarding whether all jurors must unanimously decide the defendant committed the act either by force, fraud, or coercion, or by knowing the victim was under 18 years old.12 If the jurors do not unanimously agree on the means but still find the defendant guilty, the Eighth Circuit suggested there could be duplicity concerns.13 While no court has ruled it is duplicitous if jurors agree on different means,14 prosecutors should take special care to avoid this potential problem.


  • 1 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a) (2012).
  • 2 Id.
  • 3 Id.
  • 4 Id.; United States v. Paul, 885 F.3d 1099, 1104-05 (8th Cir. 2018).
  • 5 § 1591(a), (c); Paul, 885 F.3d at 1101.
  • 6 Paul, 885 F.3d at 1105.
  • 7 See id. The court did not definitively say that the means must be proven individually, but it noted there is some ambiguity in the statute regarding whether jurors must unanimously decide the defendant committed the act either by force, fraud, or coercion, or by knowing the victim was a minor. Id.
  • 8 Id.
  • 9 Id. at 1103-04.
  • 10 See Id.
  • 11 Id. at 1105; see also United States v. Corley, 679 F. App’x 1, 5 (2d Cir. 2017) (explaining the jury “need not be unanimous as to which theory proved the element, [such as harboring or benefitting,] but only in finding that the Government proved the element beyond a reasonable doubt”).
  • 12 Paul, 885 F.3d at 1105.
  • 13 Id. But see United States v. Savoires, 430 F.3d 376, 380 (6th Cir. 2005) (noting a duplicitous charge is not “prejudicial per se, because proper jury instructions can mitigate the risk of jury confusion and alleviate the doubt that would otherwise exist as to whether all members of the jury had found the defendant guilty of the same offense”).
  • 14 Indeed, some courts have held the opposite. In United States v. Powell, the Northern District of Illinois held counts that alleged “both that the victim was under 18 as well as the use of force, fraud or coercion” were not duplicitous because they did “not allege separate offenses, but rather alternative means of proving a single offense.” No. 04 CR 885, 2006 WL 1155947 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 28, 2006).

About the author

Emily Sauer

Emily Sauer

Emily currently serves as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Carlos Bea of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Emily graduated second in her class from Pepperdine University School of Law in May 2018. During law school, she served as a member of the Inaugural Class of Douglass Fellows and worked on several projects for the Human Trafficking Institute, including drafting and submitting an amicus brief to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the Department of Justice. Emily was also active in clinics during her time at Pepperdine, through which she helped obtain a full published reversal for her client in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a permanent restraining order for a victim of domestic violence in the Los Angeles Superior Court. She also served as an editor of the Pepperdine Law Review and co-chair of Pepperdine's International Moot Court Team. Emily's long-term career goals include working for the U.S. Department of Justice in its human trafficking division or the U.S. Department of State in its human trafficking initiatives.