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United States v. Maldonado-Burgos

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

December 21, 2016

EDWIN MALDONADO-BURGOS, Defendant, Appellee.


          John Patrick Taddei, Attorney, Appellate Section, Criminal Division, United States Department of Justice, with whom Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, Sung-Hee Suh, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Rosa E. Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Nelson J. Perez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, and Mariana E. Bauza Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellant.

          Eleonora C. Marranzini, Assistant Federal Public Defender, with whom Eric Alexander Vos, Federal Public Defender, Vivianne M. Marrero, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Supervisor, Appeals Section, and Liza L. Rosado-Rodriguez, Research and Writing Specialist, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Thompson, Dyk, [*] and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

          THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

         In this appeal, we are tasked with deciding whether 18 U.S.C. § 2421(a) - which prohibits transportation of an individual "in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States" for purposes of prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity - applies to transportation that occurs solely within Puerto Rico. Long ago, we answered this question in the affirmative. See Crespo v. United States, 151 F.2d 44, 45 (1st Cir. 1945). In a typical case, this would end our inquiry.

         But this case - arising in the wake of Puerto Rico's post-Crespo transformation from a United States territory to the "self-governing Commonwealth" that it is today, Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. 1863, 1874 (2016) - is far from typical. And, despite the government's arguments to the contrary, we conclude that our post-Crespo decision in Cordova & Simonpietri Insurance Agency Inc. v. Chase Manhattan Bank N.A., 649 F.2d 36 (1st Cir. 1981), blazed a trail that we must follow in this case. Applying Cordova's analytical framework, we hold that § 2421(a) does not apply to transportation that occurs solely within Puerto Rico. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's dismissal of the indictment.

         How the Case Got Here[1]

         The two-count indictment in this case alleges that, on two separate occasions, the defendant, Edwin Maldonado-Burgos (Maldonado), transported an eighteen-year-old woman with a severe mental disability within Puerto Rico with the intent to engage in sexual activity that was criminal under Puerto Rico law. Maldonado moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that transportation occurring solely within Puerto Rico does not violate § 2421(a). The district court agreed and dismissed the indictment. The government timely appealed.[2]

         Setting the Stage

         This case presents us with a question of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. See United States v. Place, 693 F.3d 219, 227 (1st Cir. 2012). We start with the statutory text. See United States v. Godin, 534 F.3d 51, 56 (1st Cir. 2008). Section 2421(a) punishes "[w]hoever knowingly transports any individual in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or Possession of the United States, with intent that such individual engage in prostitution, or in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so."[3] Because neither § 2421(a) nor any other provision of the Mann Act explicitly mentions Puerto Rico, we are called upon to decide whether Puerto Rico is a "Territory or Possession of the United States" under § 2421(a).

         Before tackling the merits of this interpretation controversy, we first briefly recount the evolution of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico.[4] In 1898, following the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States. Sánchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. at 1868. Over the years, Congress gradually increased Puerto Rico's autonomy over its local affairs, id., but "Congress retained major elements of sovereignty" over the island, Cordova, 649 F.2d at 39.

         Then, in 1950, Congress passed legislation - which later became part of the Federal Relations Act (FRA), see Act of July 3, 1950, Pub. L. 81-600, § 4, 64 Stat. 319 (codified at 48 U.S.C. §§ 731b-731e) - that authorized the people of Puerto Rico to adopt a constitution. See Sánchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. at 1868; Examining Bd. of Eng'rs, Architects, & Surveyors v. Flores de Otero, 426 U.S. 572, 592-94 (1976). Two years later, the Puerto Rico Constitution became law when it received congressional approval. Act of July 3, 1952, Pub. L. No. 82-447, 66 Stat. 327; see Cordova, 649 F.2d at 40. The clear congressional purpose behind "the 1950 and 1952 legislation was to accord to Puerto Rico the degree of autonomy and independence normally associated with States of the Union." Examining Bd., 426 U.S. at 594. Reflecting this purpose, the Puerto Rico Constitution "created a new political entity, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, " Sánchez Valle, 136 S.Ct. at 1869 - "a distinctive, indeed exceptional, status, " id. at 1874. See id. ("Congress in 1952 'relinquished its control over [the Commonwealth's] local affairs[, ] grant[ing] Puerto Rico a measure of autonomy comparable to that possessed by the States.'" (quoting Examining Bd., 426 U.S. at 597)).[5]

         The parties dispute the role that this history should play in our analysis of whether § 2421(a) applies to transportation that occurs wholly within Puerto Rico. We begin by discussing the competing precedent that each side urges is applicable to our analysis.

         The government insists that our decision in Crespo controls. In that case, the defendant was charged with violating the predecessor to § 2421(a) by transporting women "from one place to another in Puerto Rico" for purposes of prostitution. Crespo, 151 F.2d at 45. The defendant argued that Congress could not have intended to reach intra-Puerto Rico transportation and thereby "intervene in matters of interest only to the people of Puerto Rico." Id. We disagreed, holding that § 2421(a)'s predecessor "applie[d] to transportation wholly within Puerto Rico." Id. This result, we reasoned, was compelled by both the "express terms" of the statute - which covered "transportation 'in any territory'" - and the clear statement of congressional purpose reflected in the committee reports accompanying the passage of the Mann Act, which provided that the Act was

applicable to the District of Columbia, the territories and possessions of the United States, including the Panama Canal Zone, without regard to the crossing of district, territorial, or state lines, and appl[ied] within the territories to the same extent as [it] appl[ied] in cases outside of the territories in interstate or foreign commerce.

Id. (quoting S. Rep. No. 61-886, at 2 (1910); H.R. Rep. No. 61-47, at 2 (1909)).

         Maldonado counters that Crespo - which was decided several years before the adoption of the Puerto Rico Constitution - does not govern the analysis. Instead, he argues that our later decision in Cordova sets forth the legal framework that controls this case. In that case, the plaintiffs were an insurance broker and its president who arranged the procurement of insurance policies for automobile dealers in Puerto Rico. Cordova, 649 F.2d at 37. In an attempt to cut out the middlemen, the insurance company that issued the policies agreed with a bank that was the ultimate beneficiary of the policies to cancel the policies and reissue them without using the plaintiffs' brokerage services. Id. The plaintiffs responded by filing an antitrust action against the insurance company and the bank. Id. at 37-38.

         On appeal from the dismissal of the plaintiffs' complaint, we were confronted with the issue of whether, for purposes of the Sherman Act, we must treat Puerto Rico like a state or a territory. Id. at 38. The Sherman Act treats territories differently than states: section 3 of that Act reaches agreements "in restraint of trade or commerce in any Territory of the United States, " 15 U.S.C. § 3(a); however, the Act's reach is less expansive when it comes to the states, covering only agreements "in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states, " id. § 1. See Cordova, 649 F.2d at 36. In 1937, prior to the adoption of the Puerto Rico Constitution, the Supreme Court had held that the term territory in § 3 of the Act did include Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico v. Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253, 259 (1937).

         Yet, notwithstanding Shell Co., we held in Cordova that § 3 no longer applied to Puerto Rico. 649 F.2d at 42, 44. In an opinion authored by then-Judge Breyer, we framed the particularized inquiry as follows: "whether the Sherman Act's framers, if aware of Puerto Rico's current constitutional status, would have intended it to be treated as a 'state' or 'territory' under the Act." Id. at 39. And, after reviewing the events culminating in the adoption of the Puerto Rico Constitution and explaining that this history evidenced "a general [c]ongressional intent to grant Puerto Rico state-like autonomy, " we announced that, in order for a statute to treat Puerto Rico as a territory after the island adopted its constitution, "there would have to be specific evidence or clear policy reasons embedded in a particular statute to demonstrate a statutory intent to intervene more extensively into the local affairs of post-Constitutional Puerto Rico than into the local affairs of a state." Id. at 42. Seeing no such evidence or policy reasons, we concluded that "it is fair to assume that the framers of the Sherman Act, had they been aware of the FRA and subsequent Constitutional developments, would have intended that Puerto Rico be treated as a 'state' under the Act, once Commonwealth status was achieved." Id.

         Having sketched the contours of the historical and legal landscape, we now turn to the question of whether § 2421(a) ...

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