The state Supreme Court Monday reversed an appellate court ruling overturning an attempted human trafficking of a minor conviction in Orange County.
In August 2019, a panel of Fourth District Court of Appeals justices overturned the conviction of Antonio Chavez Moses III, 44, who was convicted of attempting to pimp a 17-year-old girl, who was really an undercover Santa Ana police detective in a sting operation.
The lower court upheld convictions for attempted pimping of a minor and pandering.
The appellate court ruling was authored by Justice Thomas Goethals with Justice Richard Fybel concurring and Justice Richard Aronson dissenting in part.
In the state Supreme Court’s ruling, authored by Justice Carol Corrigan, the focus was on whether Moses could be convicted of attempted human trafficking of a minor under a 2012 law approved by voters.
Moses responded to a social networking site created by police in April 2016. He engaged in ongoing communication with the officer, who pretended to be a 17-year-old girl, encouraging the fictitious teen to work as a prostitute for him, according to the ruling.
Moses, however, expressed reluctance to pimp a minor because a friend of his received a lengthy prison sentence for that crime, according to the ruling.
When Moses and the undercover officer finally agreed to meet at a restaurant in Anaheim in May 2016, Moses left as he was pulling up because he concluded it was a sting operation, but was arrested a short time later, according to the ruling.
Moses, who had a prior strike conviction for manslaughter, was found guilty at trial and sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The appellate justices ruled that the defendant could not be convicted under the general law of an attempted crime because the alleged victim was fictional, but the state Supreme Court’s ruling overturns that based on Proposition 35 in 2012.
The attempt to “induce a police decoy posing as a minor to commit a commercial sex act” was not disputed as a “punishable offense” in the case, the state Supreme Court held.
What was in dispute was whether Moses’ crime was also an attempted human trafficking of a minor that exposed him to five to 12 years in prison or half of that under another section of the law. Moses’ prior strike doubled his sentencing after trial.
The lower court ruled that Moses “did not direct his efforts at a person who was actually a minor,” so the conviction was reversed. Aronson dissented because he believed Proposition 35 was meant to add muscle into laws against human trafficking and online predators.
Corrigan wrote that the lower court ruling was wrong because Proposition 35 “expresses the electorate’s intent to punish both the trafficking of a minor and the attempt to do so in the same way.”
The way the 2012 law reads it “conveys the voters’ intent that human trafficking of a minor, whether successfully completed or merely attempted, is to be punished in a uniform way,” Corrigan wrote.