In a federal criminal case involving an internet sex crime, a federal judge recently ruled that the phrase “minor victim” does not include an undercover detective posing as a minor. The decision in the case interpreted provisions of the recently-enacted Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, as well as a previous Act.
As part of the Adam Walsh Act, Congress amended the Bail Reform Act by establishing that for certain offenses involving a “minor victim”, defendants should not be released on bail unless they are subjected to electronic monitoring and a host of other mandatory conditions. In addition, in an Act which predated the Adam Walsh Act, Congress amended the Bail Reform Act by creating a rebuttable presumption in favor of detention for certain enumerated offenses involving a “minor victim”. In many cases, these two provisions, particularly the latter one, make it virtually impossible to secure the release of an individual facing a federal internet-based sex charge.
This recent decision, however, appears to provide some hope for those individuals. In United States v. Kahn, the federal magistrate judge presiding over the matter pointed out that Congress failed to define the phrase “minor victim” in either the Adam Walsh Act or the Bail Reform Act. Accordingly, based on fundamental principles of statutory interpretation, the court interpreted the phrase in accordance with its plain meaning. Significantly, based on such an interpretation, the court concluded that “the plain meaning of the term ‘minor victim’ does not encompass the undercover detective or her fictitous thirteen year-old daughter.” I anticipate that the Government will appeal this decision and this issue of statutory interpretation will be an interesting one to follow as it develops further.