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Traveling to a foreign country and paying a child to engage in sex acts are indispensable ingredients of the crime under 18 U.S.C.S. § 2423(c). The fact that 18 U.S.C.S. § 2423(c) and (f)(2) meld these economic and criminal components into a single statute does not put the conduct beyond Congress's reach under the Foreign Commerce Clause. The rational nexus requirement is met to a constitutionally sufficient degree. Congress did not exceed its power to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3, in criminalizing commercial sex acts with minors committed by United States citizens abroad.
Defendant Michael Lewis Clark was arrested in Cambodia after police found him engaging in sex acts with two young boys. U.S. officials, assisted by the Cambodian National Police, conducted an investigation that led to defendant's confession and extradition to the United States. The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington convicted defendant upon a guilty plea of traveling to a foreign country to engage in an illegal commercial sex act with a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 2423(c). Defendant's plea reserved his right to appeal the denial of a motion to dismiss the indictment on constitutional, jurisdictional, and statutory construction grounds. On appeal, defendant’s challenge centered on the constitutionality of § 2423(c). Defendant did not dispute that he traveled in "foreign commerce," nor did he dispute that he engaged in illicit commercial sexual conduct. The challenge he raised was to congressional authority to regulate this conduct. In addition to his Commerce Clause challenge, defendant attacked his conviction on international law, statutory construction, and Due Process grounds.
Was it proper to convict defendant under 18 U.S.C.S. § 2423(c) for the illicit commercial sexual conduct he committed in Cambodia?
The Court rejected defendant's challenges to 18 U.S.C.S. § 2423(c). First, the Court held that the extraterritorial application of § 2423(c) to defendant's conduct was proper based on the nationality principle, which permitted a country to apply its statutes to extraterritorial acts of its own nationals. Second, the Court rejected defendant's contention that § 2423(c) required the conduct to occur "while" defendant was traveling. Third, based on defendant's U.S. citizenship, the Court held that application of § 2423(c) to defendant's extraterritorial conduct did not violate the Due Process Clause. Finally, the court held that Congress did not exceed its authority under U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3 to regulate commerce with foreign nations in enacting § 2423(c). Because defendant's conduct fell under the "commercial sex act" prong of § 2423(f)(2), the Court limited its holding to § 2423(c)'s regulation of commercial sex acts.