Judge rules that phone passcodes are off limits in human trafficking case

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PITTSFIELD — Prosecutors will not be able to compel a defendant facing human trafficking charges to provide passcodes to a pair of cell phones connected to the case.

Meanwhile, the attorney representing Charles Robinson in the matter has filed another motion seeking to have the case dismissed, arguing his client is the target of selective prosecution.

Robinson, who is being held on $175,000 bail, has pleaded not guilty to charges claiming he lured a pair of women from Vermont to Berkshire County under false pretenses for the purpose of selling them for sex and reaping the profits.

Part of the allegations state that Robinson created online advertisements for the women's services without their consent, using nude or suggestive photos of them culled from their phones or social media accounts.

Two phones are at issue in the case; one was provided to investigators by one of the alleged victims, the other found in Robinson's motel room when he was arrested in late October, 2016.

Attorney Raymond Jacoub, representing Robinson, argued that compelling his client to provide information to unlock the phones violated his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and the state did not have reliable evidence Robinson has any knowledge of how to unlock the phones.

Judge John Agostini issued a five-page decision Thursday, denying the state's motion.

Agostini said a problem with the state's argument is that all of the information regarding the phones is based only on the statements of one of the alleged victims, with no other verification.

Robinson never admitted ownership or control of the phones to investigators, according to court files.

In addition, Agostini said the state was not able to demonstrate that it was a "foregone conclusion," that Robinson had such control over the phones or has any knowledge of their contents.

"The phones were not found in (Robinson's) immediate possession nor were the phones linked to an account authorized by him," Agostini wrote. "In fact, there is scant evidence other than the testimony of (one of the alleged victims) to establish this relationship."

Agostini said the issue of the control or possession of the phones is a "critical element," in the state's case and will, "without doubt," be strongly contested.

"(I) find that compelling (Robinson) to divulge the passcodes or compelling him to open the phones would violate his privilege against self-incrimination protected by the federal and Massachusetts constitutions," Agostini wrote.

Meanwhile, Jacoub has also filed a motion to dismiss the case altogether on the basis of a selective prosecution against his client.

Jacoub argued that while Robinson was charged with trafficking, one of the alleged female victims, who recruited the second woman, was not.

"Charging Mr. Robinson with sex trafficking and deriving income from ... prostitution amounts to selective prosecution, whereby the Commonwealth chose to prosecute the man but not the woman who was purportedly engaging in sex for money," Jacoub wrote in his motion.

In court documents obtained by The Eagle, Jacoub argued that one of the women, "clearly recruited (the second woman) as early as Sept. 19, 2016 to have sex for money, even including sex with multiple persons at the same time," based on a series of Facebook messages culled from the accounts of the two women.

The incidents in which Robinson is alleged to have trafficked the women began on Oct. 20.

In another round of messages between the two women, which began on that same day, one asked the other if she would be willing to leave the state and alluded to promises of drugs and cash.

"Got mad work to get high and money to be made," one of the messages read. "And, you'll stay in a (motel) with me and my man."

"This conversation contradicts both (women's) accounts of having been lured to Massachusetts under false pretenses and of being suddenly surprised that sex was involved," Jacoub wrote in his motion.

Jacoub said there is more evidence of a lack of credibility from one of the women, shown by telephone messages sent during the period she had claimed she was being held against her will by Robinson.

During that period, she responded to at least two individuals via text message saying that she was in Massachusetts, that there was nothing wrong, that she was just, "making money" and that she was "with her man."

Jacoub said there was other evidence of that particular woman continuing to solicit herself in the days after she had left Berkshire County in Robinson's vehicle and headed back to Vermont.

"The Commonwealth did not charge (the woman) with engaging in sex for a fee and did not charge (her) under the trafficking statute for recruiting (the second woman)," Jacoub wrote in his motion.

A date for oral arguments on the motion to dismiss is expected to be set sometime in May, Jacoub said.

Robinson has pleaded not guilty to three counts of trafficking a person for sexual servitude and one count each of deriving support from prostitution and conspiracy to traffic a person for sexual servitude.

If convicted on the charges as indicted, Robinson faces at least five years in prison and up to 20 years on all counts except for the one count of deriving support from prostitution.

Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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