United States v. Herman Sanders (5th Cir. July 2020)

Sex Offenses/Production of Child Pornography – A conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 2251 for enticing or transporting a minor for the purposes of producing child pornography requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew the victims were minors.

Herman Sanders, Demarcus Davis, and Pierre Lagrone were convicted of several offenses relating to the sex trafficking of underage females, including under 18 U.S.C. § 2251. Sanders was sentenced to 420 months’ imprisonment, Davis was sentenced to life, and Lagrone was sentenced to four concurrent life sentences.

Sanders, Davis, and Lagrone all appealed. Sanders argued that the district court erred in allowing his conviction for the production of child pornography because of his lack of knowledge of the victims’ ages. Davis and Lagrone argued that they were improperly enjoined.

The Fifth Circuit agreed with Sanders, holding that 18 U.S.C. § 2251 requires that a defendant actually “knew that the individuals he was persuading were minor females.” The Court further held that “disregarding the indictment’s allegation that Sanders knew that his victims were minors constitutes a constructive amendment.” The Court reversed Sanders’s conviction for the production of child pornography because he “was convicted with no proof that he knew that [the victims] were underage.”

The Court disagreed with Davis and Lagrone, holding that the two were properly enjoined because “the indictment alleged a greater connection between Davis and Lagrone than simply that they both victimized” the same person. The Court held that Davis did not suffer any prejudice because the victim testified specifically about Davis, “the evidence against Lagrone and Sanders was ‘distinct and easily segregated from evidence relating to’ Davis,” and the district court gave a jury instruction. The Court held that Lagrone did not suffer any prejudice because of the “overwhelming evidence” against Lagrone and the district court’s jury instruction.

Appeal from the Northern District of Texas

Opinion by Jolly, joined by Graves and Duncan

Click here to read the opinion.


Tom Church

Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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