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Faulty Instruction Leads to Reversal

California v. Moses Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: G055621A (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: June 2, 2021. Defendant-appellant Antonio Moses, III, was convicted by a jury of: human trafficking of a minor; attempted pimping of a minor; and pandering. The district attorney sought review of the Court of Appeal’s decision, which the California Supreme Court granted. The case returned to the appellate court on remand; the Supreme Court reversed as to human trafficking, finding the Court of Appeal misinterpreted the applicable statute. Accordingly, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s ruling, in this case mistake of fact as to the age of the alleged victim was a potential defense under the attempt prong because here, count 1 involved an adult decoy, not an actual minor. Under these circumstances, Moses must have specifically intended to target for commercial sex acts a person he thought was a minor. During a retrial, the prosecution has to establish this element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury here was instructed to the contrary when the trial court included in its instructions the language of the statute, which stated mistake of fact as to age “is not a defense to this crime.” The use of such an instruction here constituted error. This error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; judgment was therefore reversed and the case remanded for a new trial.

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