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Name: People v. Moses
Case #: G055621
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 06/02/2021

In a prosecution for human trafficking of a minor (Pen. Code, § 236.1(c)(1)), instructing the jury that a mistake of fact as to the victim’s age was not a defense where the victim was an adult decoy pretending to be a minor was prejudicial error. The police created a fictitious minor online, “Bella,” who claimed to be 21. The online account required all users to be 18 or over. Moses contacted Bella and other account users to engage them in prostitution. Bella then stated she was 17. Moses expressed reluctance, but ultimately agreed to pick her up, and was arrested. He was charged with human trafficking of a minor. The court removed the instruction that the victim must be under 18, and also instructed that “[b]eing mistaken about the [victim’s] age is not a defense to this crime.” Moses was convicted and appealed. The California Supreme Court granted review and determined that a defendant may be prosecuted for attempted human trafficking when the victim is an adult decoy count. But in such cases the mistake of fact language is inapplicable, as the defendant must have specifically intended to target a person he thought was a minor. (People v. Moses (2020) 10 Cal.5th 893.) The court remanded the case for the Court of Appeal to address jury instruction issues. Held: Reversed. Under section 236.1, a person who attempts to induce or persuade a minor to engage in a commercial sex act is guilty of human trafficking. In Moses, the California Supreme Court rejected the People’s argument that a defendant could be convicted not only in the absence of an actual minor victim, but also without intent to induce a minor victim. Here, the trial court’s inclusion of the mistake of age language was error that diluted the specific intent element. The jury should not be inhibited from fully considering and determining the defendant’s actual intent. The trial court’s human trafficking instruction did not tell the jury it had to find Moses intentionally targeted someone he believed was a minor before it could return a guilty verdict. Precluding full consideration of the age issue—because it did not matter under the instructions whether or which of her various representations of her age Moses believed—hindered Moses’ defense.