Eighth Circuit Upholds Transporting a Minor Conviction for Man Who Financed Runaway – United States v. Goodwin

April 23, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

It is a federal crime to transport a minor with the intent to engage in sexual activity. Most people might imagine this to involve kidnapping a child or enticing a child over the Internet to meet an older adult for sex. But in United States v. Goodwin, the minor in question was 17 years old and the “transportation” was financial support provided to help her run away. Rodney Goodwin of Texas struck up an online relationship with J.B., who said she was abused and unhappy living with her grandparents in North Dakota. But when Goodwin tried to finance J.B.’s attempt to run away to him in Texas, she failed to get out of North Dakota and Goodwin was prosecuted for attempting to transport a minor. Goodwin argued to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the evidence was insufficient to show that he “transported” her or that he financed the trip for sexual purposes, but the Eighth Circuit upheld his conviction.

Goodwin, whose age was not given, met J.B. online when she was sixteen. Many of their messages and phone calls were sexual, and J.B. also told Goodwin she was being abused in the home she shared with her grandparents. On her seventeenth birthday, Goodwin wrote to J.B. that they could be together in 364.25 days. But she said he was impatient, and they started planning for her to run away to meet him in Dallas. Goodwin provided information to J.B. about the Bismarck bus schedule and told her to buy a prepaid phone card and a debit card he could fund. On the appointed day, she tried to run away, but ultimately decided to go home. It’s not clear how Goodwin was found out, but in later interviews with authorities, both parties testified that they intended to have a sexual relationship. Goodwin was ultimately convicted of attempting to transport a minor and sentenced to 121 months in prison.

Goodwin first argued on appeal that his conduct didn’t show enough intent to transport J.B., because he gave her money only to pay for a bus ticket. But the Eighth Circuit said caselaw says “transporting” includes causing people to be transported, by financing and making their plans, as well as physically transporting them. Thus, the evidence was sufficient for his conviction. Goodwin next argued that he didn’t transport J.B. with intent to have sex with her, but to remove her from an abusive household. But according to past cases, the court said, sexual activity need not be the dominant purpose of the trip as long as it is one of the purposes and not incidental. Both parties testified that they intended to have a sexual relationship, the court noted, so Goodwin could have committed the crime of sex with a minor, and that was sufficient to uphold the verdict even though the child porn charges the prosecution suggested were not borne out by the evidence. Their sexual relationship would have been legal in Texas, the court noted, but North Dakota law criminalizes out-of-state solicitation of North Dakota minors. Finally, it upheld the jury instructions as not plainly erroneous despite including descriptions of crimes he did not commit.

I am disappointed that the Eighth Circuit didn’t go into more detail about whether Goodwin’s relationship with J.B. was coercive or not. Transporting a minor for sexual activity is illegal because society wants to protect young people from predators. But because J.B. was 17—nearly an adult—it’s possible that she could have had a healthy adult relationship with Goodwin, rather than an exploitive one. The apparent attempt by prosecutors to charge Goodwin with child pornography crimes reinforces the idea that they were reaching for ways to criminalize behavior that might have been lawful if they had just waited a year. In Florida, we have graduated statutory rape laws that stop prosecutions when the sexual activity was between people of roughly similar ages, even when one party was a few years older than the other. In Texas, apparently, the planned sexual relationship would have been legal. It’s worth asking whether Goodwin was sentenced to 10 years in prison solely because North Dakota is more restrictive.

If you are accused of a serious sex crime involving computers, technology or the Internet, don’t wait to call experienced cyber crime attorney David Seltzer. You can reach us through our website or call 24 hours a day at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE.

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