Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Gary H. Lee, Judge.
Christene Ann Reierson, Minot, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.
William Kirschner, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.
Lisa Fair McEvers, Daniel J. Crothers, Dale V. Sandstrom, Carol Ronning Kapsner, Gerald W. VandeWalle, C.J. Opinion of the Court by McEvers, Justice.
Lisa Fair McEvers,
[¶1] Galen Paul Rufus appeals from a criminal judgment entered after a bench trial finding him guilty of human trafficking. We affirm, concluding sufficient evidence supports the district court's verdict finding Rufus guilty of human trafficking.
[¶2] Rufus responded to an advertisement posted on Craigslist under " personals
> casual encounters" by a Ward County Deputy Sheriff using the undercover persona of " Chad Russo." The advertisement indicated Russo's girlfriend would be out of town for the weekend and her daughter wanted to make some money while her mother was gone. According to the advertisement, interested individuals could contact Russo for more details. Rufus responded to the advertisement requesting more information. Russo replied, informing Rufus that the girl was fourteen years old. Rufus asked Russo whether it would be illegal, as the girl was only fourteen, and requested more details. Russo acknowledged fourteen was illegal, but indicated he would not tell anyone. In two separate online Yahoo Messenger conversations, Russo and Rufus discussed the pricing for various sexual acts and a meeting place and time. Russo also sent Rufus a picture of " the girl." During Yahoo Messenger conversations, Rufus agreed to exchange two bags of marijuana, each worth $60, for one hour of time with the fourteen-year-old girl as follows:
Russo: . . .we meet tonight and I'll bring her with, she likes to hit it too . . . we can work it out . . . you bring something for me and she can take care of you
Rufus: OK your [sic] on, what works for u [sic] guys
. . . .
Russo: 1 hr with her do [sic] do whatever you want . . . no freaky shit . . . for two 60 bags . . . sound right?
. . . .
Rufus: u [sic] got it, and im [sic] looking for something else just for a good time
Rufus and Russo agreed to meet in a parking lot at 9:00 p.m. Russo told Rufus to bring condoms if he wanted to have sexual intercourse with the girl. Rufus arrived and was arrested. The deputy found marijuana and money on Rufus. The deputy also found a cooler containing beer, additional marijuana, one morphine pill, and one oxycodone pill in Rufus's vehicle.
[¶3] Rufus was charged with human trafficking. Rufus waived his right to a jury trial and, on May 28, 2014, the district court held a bench trial. The court issued its findings and verdict, convicting Rufus of human trafficking, a class AA felony. The district court entered judgment on October 21, 2014, sentencing Rufus to ten years of incarceration, with five years suspended. Rufus appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, and alternatively, whether the offense should be classified as a class AA felony.
[¶4] Rufus argues the evidence is insufficient to sustain the district court's finding that he committed the crime of human trafficking. Specifically, Rufus contends (1) this Court should review both the facts and law under a de novo standard of review; (2) the district court's findings are flawed; (3) the elements of the crime of human trafficking do not include making a date with a pimp to possibly have sex with an underage prostitute; and (4) his actions do not constitute an attempt to commit a crime.
1. Standard of Review
[¶5] Rufus argues this Court should review both the facts and law under a de novo standard of review because only one individual, a law enforcement officer, testified at trial and all of the evidence in the record that was available to the district court is also available to this Court on appeal.
[¶6] The applicable standard of review for a criminal conviction resulting from a trial is as follows:
In an appeal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, we look only to the evidence and reasonable inferences most favorable to the verdict to ascertain if there is substantial evidence to warrant the conviction. A conviction rests upon insufficient evidence only when, after reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and giving the prosecution the benefit of all inferences reasonably to be drawn in its favor, no rational fact finder could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable ...