By: ALANA BROE
Runaway Recruited by the Roadside
On December 1, 2015, seventeen-year-old T.S. ran away from a juvenile facility in Columbus, Ohio. She was standing at an intersection when a man approached her in a van. This man, Kyle Parks, told her she was beautiful, and he could give her anything she wanted if she went on dates for him. He told her she would not have to have sex. T.S. got in Parks’ van, and he took her to an office space where she encountered several other girls using drugs that Parks provided. That same day, Parks set up a “date” for T.S.
Contrary to what Parks promised, he forced T.S. to have sex with her “date,” and Parks took the money. Parks then told the girls he was taking them to Florida.
Road Trip to the Red Roof Inn
T.S. and four other women loaded into Parks’ van, smoked some marijuana and went to sleep. They awoke, expecting to be in Florida, but realized they were at a Red Roof Inn in St. Charles, Missouri instead. Parks told the women “it’s time to get some money,” and directed them to take pictures of their bodies and post ads for sex on Backpage.com. T.S. had sex with one man from Backpage.com, and Parks took $137 of the $197 she was paid.
Concerned Mother Alerts Police
On the way to Florida, T.S. called her mother and told her she was going to Florida with “friends.” Concerned by this phone call, T.S.’s mother alerted the Ohio police. Believing T.S. was in danger, they carried out an emergency cell phone ping to T.S.’s phone revealing she was near a Red Roof Inn in St. Charles, Missouri. At the Red Roof Inn, police located a gray van registered to Parks. The hotel directed officers to two rooms previously rented out to women from Ohio. According to investigators’ testimony, the two-room set up is consistent with prostitution activities: one room is for victims to “work” and the other is for rest when they are not working.1 Officers visited these rooms and encountered four females: T.S., a fifteen-year-old, and two women. At trial, the investigating officer described the victims as appearing “very sickly, just tired, wore out.”2
The women allowed the officers to search their rooms, and officers found stained and soiled linens, drug paraphernalia—including needles—feminine hygiene products, prepaid gift cards, packages of condoms, used condoms, male clothing, and items bearing Parks’ name. Officers then discovered that Parks, his van, and seventeen-year-old S.L. were missing.
The next morning, Parks walked into the St. Charles police headquarters asking to bail out a friend. The police officer at the lobby desk recognized Parks and notified detectives, who searched Parks’ van and a found S.L., who they described as “sluggish and slow,” along with cell phones, condoms, gift cards, and a bag of marijuana.
In January 2017, Parks was tried in the Eastern District of Missouri and found guilty of one count of transportation of a minor to engage in prostitution, two counts of attempted transportation of a minor to engage in prostitution, and six counts of transportation of an individual with the intent to engage in prostitution. On April 19, 2017, the district court sentenced Parks to 300 months imprisonment, followed by a lifetime term of supervised release. This sentence was a downward departure from the advisory guideline range of 360 months to life.
During the trial, there were multiple references to Parks providing drugs to the victims and two references to Parks requesting sex from T.S. and S.L.
Parks objected to these references at trial, but the court allowed them in. Parks then raised the challenge on appeal, claiming the district court abused its discretion in admitting this evidence because it was irrelevant to any fact charged in the superseding indictment, and the prejudicial effect on Parks of this evidence outweighed its value in proving any element of the crime. Parks argued the evidence of drug activity and requests for sex made him out to be a “statutory rapist and a drug dealer” but did not prove any fact charged.3 The court upheld the introduction of the evidence both as res gestae and under Federal Rules of Evidence 404(b).
Evidence of Sex and Drugs Is Relevant
Res gestae, also known as intrinsic evidence, is evidence relating to crimes that are “so blended or connected with the ones on trial that the proof of one incidentally involves the other.”4 The Eighth Circuit previously held that this evidence is permissible for “providing the context in which the charged crime has occurred,” “complet[ing] the story, or provid[ing] a total picture of the charged crime.”
In this case, the Eighth Circuit held the evidence of Parks’ requests for sex and offering of drugs gave context to the prostitution crimes with which he was charged. The court relied upon expert testimony that explained how a “finesse pimp” controls and manipulates women, particularly minor runaways, through love, affection, and drugs. The evidence in question supports that Parks may have been engaging in these manipulative techniques.
Additionally, this evidence was admissible under Rule 404(b),5 which provides that evidence of “crimes, wrongs, [and] other acts” committed by the defendant cannot be used to show the defendant’s character or tendency to engage in criminal behavior, but may be used for some other purpose.6 The Eighth Circuit requires that this evidence be relevant to a material issue and be related to the charged offense.7 Here, the evidence showed Parks’ intent to solicit, entice, and maintain the minor women to engage in commercial sex through drugs and romance. Parks’ knowledge and intent were necessary elements of the charged crime, so the court upheld admission of the evidence. This probative value outweighed any resulting prejudice against Parks.
Other Federal Circuits Allow Similar “Other Acts” Evidence
The Eighth Circuit was unpersuaded by Parks’ assertion that evidence of these “other acts” (i.e. drug activity, requests for sex) would lure the jury into finding guilt, but instead found the evidence necessary to give context that proved Parks’ intentions. Although other acts evidence must not unfairly prejudice a defendant by “lur[ing] the factfinder into declaring guilt on a ground different from proof specific to the offense charged,”8 the Supreme Court has long recognized that evidence is important to create a “colorful story with descriptive richness.”9
Federal circuits faced with similar challenges have also found other acts evidence to be admissible. For example, the Fifth Circuit held evidence that a defendant-trafficker had sex with a sex trafficking victim and provided her with drugs was admissible to allow the jury to “understand the complete episode of the crime and to evaluate all circumstances under which the defendant acted.”10 Similarly, the Eleventh Circuit found this sort of evidence to be inextricably intertwined with the sex trafficking of a minor and probative of the essential element of enticement.11
Some courts are skeptical of the overwhelming power that res gestae gives the government to introduce other acts evidence and are moving away from allowing other acts evidence in as “inextricably intertwined.”12 In these circuits, prosecutors will not be able to rely on res gestae but may still admit the evidence under Rule 404(b) to show motive or intent or to serve some other purpose. The Parks court emphasized what many other courts have come to understand: traffickers use drugs and sex with the victim to control victims.
Recognizing these acts as res gestae, as the Eighth Circuit did, helps prosecutors admit important evidence, even when it prejudices defendants. However, even if courts abandon the res gestae distinction entirely, evidence of sexual conduct between the victim and the defendant or evidence of drug distribution to the victim is still probative and will likely still be admissible.
- 1 Brief of Plaintiff – Appellee at 27, United States v. Parks, No. 17-1914 (Jan. 18, 2018).
- 2 Id.at 34.
- 3 US v. Parks, 902 F.3d 805, 814 (2018).
- 4 United States v. Campbell, 764 F.3d 880, 888 (8th Cir. 2014).
- 5 Rule 404(b) states, “Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person’s character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character (2) … This evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Federal R. Evid. 404
- 6 United States v. Campbell, 764 F.3d 880, 888 (8th Cir. 2014).
- 7 United States v. Gant, 721 F.3d 505, 509 (8th Cir. 2013).
- 8 Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172, 180 (1997) (citing, generally, J. Weinstein, M. Berger, & J. McLaughlin, Weinstein’s Evidence P403  (1996)).
- 9 Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172, 187 (1997)
- 10 United States v. O’Neal, 742 Fed.Appx. 836, 844 (2018)(internal quotations omitted). See also United States v. Campbell, 49 F.3d 1079, 1083–84 (5th Cir.1995) (holding that the probative value of evidence regarding how a defendant “used drugs and violence to control the women and make them prostitute for him” outweighed its prejudicial effect).
- 11 United States v. Williams, 564 Fed.Appx. 568, 574 (2014)(“[evidence that defendant] provided his minor victims with drugs and engaged in sexual intercourse with at least two of them is inextricably linked with the charged misconduct of sex trafficking of a minor and/or attempted sex trafficking of a minor”).
- 12 See United States v. Fuertes, 805 F.3d 485, 484 n. 4 (2015), United States v. Bowie, 232 F.3d 923, 929 (D.C.Cir.2000), United States v. Gorman, 613 F.3d 711, 719 (7th Cir.2010) (abandoning the “inextricable intertwinement doctrine” because it “has outlived its usefulness” and “become overused, vague, and quite unhelpful”); United States v. Green, 617 F.3d 233, 248 (3d Cir.2010) ( “[T]he inextricably intertwined test is vague, overbroad, and prone to abuse, and we cannot ignore the danger it poses to the vitality of Rule 404(b).”)