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RITZ, ROBERT FRANCIS

PD-1661-15 04/27/2016

  1. "The court of appeals erred in finding that the evidence was sufficient to prove that petitioner 'trafficked' the alleged victim as intended by the statute."
  2. "The court of appeals erred in finding that the application of the plain language of V.T.C.A. Penal Code, Sec. 20A.01(4) did not lead to an absurd consequence that the legislature could not have intended."

Ritz had a sexual relationship with a 14 year-old. Ritz would pick the victim up near her parent's house, drive to his house less than 10 miles away to have sex, and return her to her house afterwards. Under section 20A of the Penal Code, a person engages in the offense of trafficking when he "traffics" a child and causes the child to engage in or become the victim of several listed offenses, including sexual assault. "Traffic" means "transport, entice, recruit, harbor, provide or otherwise obtain another person..."

The court of appeals held the evidence was sufficient to prove that Ritz trafficked the victim. It acknowledged that the statutory language is broad and not limited to prostitution, forced labor, or other scenarios typically associated with human trafficking. However, it held the plain meaning of the statute does not lead to absurd results the legislature could not have intended. Although it is possible that the legislature did not foresee this particular application of the statute, it is also possible that it believed transporting a child away from the safety of her home to the seclusion of the defendant's home to sexually assault her warrants an enhanced punishment.

Ritz argues that the legislative history of the statute – the bill sponsor's statement of intent referring to the "modern day slave trade" – shows the legislature did not envision that the statute would apply to this type of case. He argues the plain language leads to absurd results because it allows a sexual predator's punishment to be automatically enhanced to a first degree felony if he moves a child any distance – even from one room to another or from the bed to the floor – during the commission of the offense.

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