Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Long Arm of the Law

How difficult is it to prosecute cases in U.S. courts that involve extraterritorial jurisdiction? In a word, "very." Gaining custody of the defendant may involve complex extradition procedures that bring both legal and diplomatic considerations into play. Prosecutors must work with police officials who follow rules for the collection and handling of evidence that are different from those here. Often, witnesses must be deposed using interpreters. If asked to testify, witnesses must be brought to the U.S., housed, and fed at government expense. This is not all. The prosecutors in such cases could generate much longer lists of the special problems inherent in cases that involve multiple jurisdictions.

Last week, a sentence of 210 years in prison was handed down in the case of Michael Joseph Pepe, a former Marine who was convicted back in 2008 in federal court on charges involving the sexual abuse of seven young girls in Cambodia. Pepe was arrested in Phnom Penh in June 2006 by Cambodian authorities and expelled the following February. He was brought to Los Angeles in the custody of U.S. law enforcement officials and arraigned. His trial, which included testimony from six of the seven girls, lasted three weeks and concluded on May 29, 2008. Here is a portion of the press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California:
During the trial, government prosecutors presented testimony from six of the seven girls that Pepe sexually abused. The girls, who at the time of the abuse were between the ages of 9 and 12, testified that Pepe drugged, bound, beat and raped them. . . .
In addition to victim testimony, prosecutors presented corroborating evidence seized by the Cambodian National Police from Pepe’s Phnom Penh residence, including rope and cloth strips used to restrain the victims, Rohypnol and other sedatives, and homemade child pornography.
The prostitute who acted as Pepe’s broker testified on videotape about bringing him young victims. Pepe paid the broker and the victims' families for unlimited access to the victims.
The press release also notes that Pepe was the fifth person to be tried in the Central District of California under the PROTECT Act of 2003, a statute designed to strengthen protections in federal law against the sexual abuse of children. Section 105 of the law establishes a maximum sentence of thirty years in prison for anyone who travels abroad "for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person."

U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer imposed the maximum sentence in each of the seven cases and ordered that they be served consecutively rather than concurrently. She called Pepe's crimes "unspeakable" and "heinous" and indicated that she wished to send a message to other Americans who might consider traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit sex.

The long delay between the conclusion of Pepe's trial in 2008 and his final sentencing in 2014 was the result of a defense motion to throw out the verdict due to concerns about bias in some of the Vietnamese-language interpretations of witness testimony presented to the court. After the trial ended, an interpreter revealed that she was involved in a sexual relationship with a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent investigating the case. In the end, Judge Fischer ruled that the ICE investigator's misconduct did not invalidate the overwhelming evidence of Pepe's guilt.