Long Awaited Appeal In Guam Brothel Case Filed

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Notorious ‘Blue House Madame’ convicted in 2012

By Cameron Miculka

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Feb. 25, 2016) – A defense attorney for a woman convicted of running a Guam business that secretly operated as a brothel has appealed the woman’s sentence and conviction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The woman, Song Ja Cha, is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2012 of prostitution and human trafficking charges.

Cha, who is in her 70s, ran the Blue House lounge, which secretly operated as a brothel, in Tamuning from 2004 to 2008. According to federal court documents, Cha would lure impoverished women from the Federated States of Micronesia to Guam by promising them high-paying waitressing jobs, then force the women into prostitution.

At least nine women were victims of the scheme.

After a trial, she was ultimately convicted of 20 federal crimes — all stemming from human trafficking and prostitution.

Not long after she was sentenced, an appeal in her case was announced.

However, it took years for a brief in the appeal to be filed after the attorney representing her said the transcript of the trial was incomplete.

For instance, court documents indicate the word "inaudible" appeared 324 times in the transcript from jury selection alone.

On Feb. 2, the brief was filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over federal cases in Guam.

In the appeal, Cha’s attorney alleges jurors weren’t properly instructed about how to consider some of the evidence in the case.

For instance, deputy federal public defender Jonathan D. Libby indicated that terms like "force" and "fraud," which are elements of the crimes of which Cha was convicted, have very specific definitions that the jury wasn’t instructed about.

"Force," for example, requires violent force, a factor Libby said was not communicated to jurors.

That, he said, subjected Cha to a higher mandatory minimum sentence than she might have faced had the instructions been clearer.

Because those instructions might have affected Cha’s right to a fair trial, he said, she should be given a new one.

Cha’s attorney also argued the judge should have told the jury that testimony from police officers doesn’t hold more weight than civilians.

Libby wrote that during Cha’s trial, police officers testified about the case, but their testimony is no more credible than other witnesses.

Libby even pointed out court precedence that ordered a jury instruction specifically said jurors should "in no event … give either greater or lesser credence to the testimony of any witness merely because he is or she is or was a law enforcement official or police officer."

Despite that, he said, prosecutors used terminology that implied jurors shouldn’t doubt police statements.

Libby said prosecutors stressed "again and again" that they had police officers as witnesses when speaking to jurors.

Again, he said, that misstep hurt Cha’s chance at a fair trial.

Finally, Libby argued that a life imprisonment for an elderly woman "was both procedurally and substantively unreasonable."

Libby argued that a prison sentence should be only as long as needed to serve the purpose of the sentence.

That means, he said, imposing "the least suffering that is demanded by the general welfare."

Libby said a shorter sentence would have served its purpose "while at the same time giving an elderly inmate some modicum of hope that she might one day see freedom rather than suffer through her incarceration with the knowledge that she will die in custody."

Libby said Cha’s life sentence wasn’t reasonable and that the court failed to weigh Cha’s personal history and background with the circumstances of the case.

Therefore, he said, in the event that a new trial isn’t ordered, the appeals court should at the very least vacate the sentence and order a judge to resentence her.

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