(CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the conviction of a sex trafficker known as “S&M Svengali,” who received 9 years in prison for beating, sexually abusing and humiliating a woman who agreed to appear in photos as his “sex slave.”
Marcus met his alleged victim, Jodi, through a bondage website, and the two agreed to meet in Maryland in 1998. During the visit, Marcus whipped Jodi and carved the word “slave” on her stomach with a knife, according to prosecutors.
On subsequent visits, Marcus allegedly branded Jodi, whipped and choked her during sex, “punished” her for disobedience and made her ask his permission to contact her family.
She said the relationship turned non-consensual after he handcuffed her to a wall and beat her as punishment for refusing to arrange a meeting with her younger sister. Jodi testified that she felt “completely beaten down,” “trapped” and “full of terror.”
Jodi claimed Marcus continued to beat her, drug her and have sex with her, and forced her to write diary entries about the incidents for his website.
Marcus was sentenced to 9 years in prison for sex-trafficking and forced-labor violations.
But the 2nd Circuit threw out his conviction on the basis that some of the offenses occurred before the passage of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was used to prosecute him.
Though Marcus had first raised that argument on appeal, the Manhattan-based appeals court viewed it as a “plain error” that required reversal. The 2nd Circuit said a court must recognize a plain error if there’s “any possibility, no matter how unlikely” that the jury convicted Marcus based exclusively on actions taken before they were criminal.
Writing for the 7-1 majority, Justice Stephen Breyer called the lower court’s ruling “inconsistent with this court’s ‘plain error’ cases.” (Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former 2nd Circuit judge, did not participate in the decision.)
The Supreme Court has established that a court may overturn a verdict based on plain error only if the mistake “seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.”
The 2nd Circuit’s standard — “any possibility, no matter how unlikely” — conflicts with this precedent, Breyer said.
The justices reversed and sent the case back to the 2nd Circuit to determine if the trial error was a “plain error” under Supreme Court standards.
Dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens said the trial error “was sufficiently weighty to affect ‘substantial rights.'”
“I am convinced that the error prejudiced Marcus and seriously undermined the integrity of his proceedings,” he wrote.