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August 4, 2014

Sixth Circuit reverses federal forced labor conviction based on ordering kids to do household chores

The Sixth Circuit this morning handed down a fascinating ruling in a case which reinforces my fear that that modern federal prosecutors may often have too much discretionary criminal justice power as well as my optimism that a wise modern judiciary can and will often play a critical role in checking that power.  The unanimous panel opinion in US v. Toviave, No. 13-1441 (6th Cir. Aug. 4, 2014) (available here), starts and ends this way:

Child abuse is a state crime, but not a federal crime. Forced labor is a federal crime, 18 U.S.C. § 1589, but the statute obviously does not extend to requiring one’s children to do their homework, babysit on occasion, and do household chores. Only by bootstrapping can this combination of two actions that are not federal crimes — child abuse and requiring children to do household chores — be read as a federal crime.

Defendant Toviave brought four young relatives from Togo to live with him in Michigan. After they arrived, Toviave made the children cook, clean, and do the laundry.  He also occasionally made the children babysit for his girlfriend and relatives.  Toviave would beat the children if they misbehaved or failed to follow one of Toviave’s many rules.  While his actions were deplorable, Toviave did not subject the children to forced labor.  The mere fact that Toviave made the children complete chores does not convert Toviave’s conduct — what essentially amounts to child abuse — into a federal crime.  Toviave’s federal forced labor conviction must accordingly be reversed....

[V]ictims in the other [discussed forced labor] cases were denied almost all contact with the outside world.  The evidence in this case shows that the children attended school, spent time with relatives and Toviave’s friends, engaged in recreational activities, and went on vacations with Toviave.  The children also interacted with teachers, classmates, and teammates on sports teams.  Viewing the evidence favorably to the government, it is true that the children probably did not have the same freedom as many other children.  For example, Toviave did not let the children have friends over, go to sleep-overs, or freely use the phone.  But their isolation was not nearly as severe as the victims in other forced labor cases.  Finally, we have found no other cases where the government convicted a victim’s relative of forced labor.  This absence is likely explained by the difficulty of drawing a line between what amounts to forced labor and what are widely accepted childrearing practices in the context of a familial relationship where the labor at issue consists entirely of household chores.

The line between required chores and forced labor may be a fine one in some circumstances, but that cannot mean that all household chores are forced labor, with only the discretion of prosecutors protecting thoughtful parents from federal prosecution.  The facts of this case fall on the chores side of the line.

Because the Government did not present sufficient evidence of forced labor, we need not reach the other issues in this case.  Toviave’s convictions for forced labor are REVERSED.

August 4, 2014 at 01:00 PM | Permalink


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Why didn't the state convict him, as a juror asked, is a good question.

The feds had certain reasonable grounds to target the defendant. This was an at best dubious tack-on. But, it should be noted that it is not that the feds JUST targeted the person for mistreatment of the children. The 13A claim arose in the context of a federal prosecution of some merit.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 4, 2014 4:35:55 PM

The prosecution side.


Not straightforward feminists attacking the family.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 4, 2014 6:45:24 PM

I liked the court's quoting of Bond. Good job. Not only was this not a forced labor case it also in my mind a very close call as to whether it was even child abuse in any form. Since the court doesn't go into detail because that is not the issue, what it does relate makes me skeptical that the state prosecution had merit.

And frankly, I'm surprised that SC is pussyfooting around the issue. It must be because of their skin color.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 4, 2014 7:47:27 PM

Daniel: He imported children not his own. One suspects it was for their labor, not for love. There was no family to attack, here.

I have attacked child abuse regulations and the feminist extremists that enforce them. These standards of child abuse describe Southern child rearing practice by black people even in the North. As a result, there is a wild disproportion of child torn from their families if they are black. This practice is one of many tht destroyed the black family, soared the bastardy rate, and exploded the crime rate in the black community. It had been, along with all other social pathologies just slightly worse than those of white until the 1960's, in the face of slavery, war, discrimination, and the genocidal rampage of the Democratic Party.

A reverse form of racism is emerging, as it should, since all "-isms" are folk statistics, 80% true, 80% of the time. If you see a pitch black person, you assume someone with the King's English, above average morality, work ethic, honesty, family values, and ability to get things done. You correctly assume their kids will climb to the top of their classes. Indeed, that reverse racism is backed up by the 2010 Census.

If you are calling me a racist, I admit to adhering to the above folk statistics. After 5 minutes, I become completely blind to color and only react to the way the person makes me feel. For example, I was a strong supporter of Herman Cain, as the brightest candidate of both parties, making Obama, and his affirmative action Harvard education, and what's his name the guy who ws nominated by th estupid Republicans, look like a couple of Harvard educated simps. I was right. Then the feminist horrible people took Cain down.

That being said, if you hire a black person to handle your finances and a Jew to be on your professional basketball team, you still deserve the consequences. If you cite the exceptions, that merely proves the point by their rarity.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 4, 2014 10:37:49 PM

"He imported children not his own."

Did you even bother to read the opinion? All the children were related to him. They were nephews and cousins but they were related to him. Or is it your view that the only relatives one can love are those in the direct line of descent?

"One suspects it was for their labor, not for love."

And what makes you think that other than racism? Again, as the opinion notes all the so-called abuse revolved around the kids' school work. Normally, parents who are unloving are not overly zealous of their child's education. In fact, if you read the opinion closely everything suggests that in fact his behavior was motivated by love--perhaps with undue emphasis but love nonetheless.

I'm not calling you a racist. What I'm saying is that I'm at a loss for a reasonable explanation as to why you have gone so far off your usual course and your comments make me wonder if racism is blinding you to the truth in this case.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 5, 2014 3:00:46 AM

Please, call me a racist. I will call you a race whore. If we were at work, I would demand zero tolerance for race whores, because I feel threatened. I am both a racist and a race whore, since I always use the race card, whichever side of it applies to the legal matter with the slightest racial disparity. Examples. Housing inspections were to ethnically cleanse the town of white people. Or, a recertification procedure was to rid a field of blacks, females, and the older members. An example of that is the ongoing bar examination racial skewed pass rate of a highly racist state. In Larry P v Riles the IQ test was knocked down because of the stigma of performance by race. That knocked down the most validated test in human history. It predicts success at 50 from a result at age 5. Racist. Result non-certed by the Supreme Court, so it stands. Always use the race card. Always use the race whore card. The bar examination has zero scientific validation. Why a class action constitutional tort claim has yet to be filed to eliminate this worthless, invalid, racist examination remains a mystery.

Daniel, please tell me what these facts say about the integrity of this little family.

From the DOJ press release in 2012. Ignore the beatings with various objects. Perhaps that is cultural. He leased their services to people outside the home. Perhaps he wanted them to learn the janitorial business. Any abuse was not in anger, not for rule breaking nor for correction, but to further the labor.

"Toviave brought the four minors into the United States by giving them passports with false names and dates of birth. Defendant represented on these immigration documents that the four individuals were his biological children. Toviave pleaded guilty on February 24, 2012 to visa fraud, mail fraud and harboring aliens in connection with bringing the four minors to Michigan from Togo.

The four victims testified at trial that Toviave regularly beat them with broomsticks, a toilet plunger, sticks, ice scrappers and phone chargers if they failed to obey Toviave’s orders to complete household labor. Each of the victims' testimony during trial detailed the work that they were forced to do on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, spanning nearly five years. This domestic work included all of the cooking and cleaning in the house, hand-washing laundry, ironing Toviave’s suits, shining his shoes, washing and vacuuming his car, baby-sitting the children of his friends and cleaning his friend's home. In addition to force and threats of force, Toviave used food and sleep deprivation as punishment for the minors."

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 5, 2014 3:41:24 AM

I'm not arguing with you that he brought the children into this country illegally. He did. He lied about them being his biological children. But presumably he did this because they would have better opportunity here than in his native country. His decision to lie may have been misguided but that doesn't mean it sprung from ill motive towards the children.

As for parents profiting for their children's labor so what? When I was 12 years old I worked for $1/hour shoveling shit from a neighbor's (non-relative) corrals. That money went to pay for gas so I could drive my brother and myself to school. Yes I was driving--illegality--at 12. Does this make my mother guilty of forced labor? Does it make her neglectful because she allowed a minor to drive?

What astounds me is that you have given into the nanny-state feminist running dogs you have so often deplored. You seem to have a blind spot to their antics when race is concerned. I'm not so much surprised as I am disappointed. I thought you at least had the virtue of loyalty to a cause but it seems you are not so loyal as I thought.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 5, 2014 1:48:23 PM

I argued the appeal. The prosecution overstepped its bounds and then some. The Court didn't even address the lead issue, which concerned Miranda. In short, the police told Toviave "he had to talk" regardless of whether he wanted a lawyer. In any event, I am glad they didn't address it as they tossed the whole thing out on the forced labor issue. As for the forced labor issue-the prosecution admitted at oral argument that even threatening to spank one's own child if he didn't clean his room or do his homework would be grounds for a forced labor charge. The judges were incredulous. So while Toviave's conduct was wrong, it was not a federal crime, and the prosecution tried to make the case into something it was not.

Posted by: chris keleher | Aug 5, 2014 10:29:00 PM

Daniel: You are a mandated reporter. Today, a child gives your history, would you have to report? You do not have to determine if abuse tool place, but whether it could have taken place.

Chris: Is there a legal definition of forced labor? What would your client have to do to meet it?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 6, 2014 3:45:12 AM

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