Author
Kimberly Blasey

Published
April 27, 2020

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This Note addresses how courts should interpret the “reasonable opportunity to observe” standard when assessing evidence. In other words, what quantum of evidence is, and should be, sufficient to prove a defendant had a “reasonable opportunity to observe” a sex trafficking victim? Would a singular brief encounter with an older-appearing prostitute satisfy the standard? If so, would the mere fact that the “prostitute” was actually a minor be the only evidence needed to obtain a conviction? Or would the defendant’s intention and attempt to order services from an adult prostitute shed light on the reasonableness of his observation opportunity? Moreover, in the age of increasing technology, would trafficking a minor through a webcam videochat satisfy the standard? For instance, would a man in the United States requesting sexual performances from a Filipino child over videochat constitute a “reasonable opportunity to observe” that child even without an in-person, face-to-face interaction? This Note answers these questions.

Part II analyzes three recent cases that employ the “reasonable opportunity to observe” standard: United States v. RobinsonUnited States v. Copeland, and United States v. Valas. It then determines which factors these cases reveal as sufficient to constitute a “reasonable opportunity to observe.” Part III discusses how the currently utilized factors and interpretation of the standard create two issues: under-criminalization of legitimate forms of sex trafficking and over-criminalization of non-trafficking behavior. Part IV articulates a solution by presenting a revised list of factors that courts should consider when determining whether a defendant had a “reasonable opportunity to observe” a victim.