Appeals court: Forcing kids to do chores is not child slavery, even if abuse involved
Judge reviews decision (Shutterstock)

A Michigan man convicted of four federal counts of enslavement had those convictions thrown out by an appeals court in a unanimous decision that ruled that his abuse of his purported children didn't amount to "forced labor" under federal law.

In March of 2013, Jean-Claude Toviave was convicted of violating federal forced labor laws for abusing his "children" in order to get them to perform household chores. He was also convicted on charges that he falsified immigration documents, claiming that the four children who lived with him were his biologically, when in fact one was his sister and two others were his cousins. (The consanguinity of the fourth child could not be determined.)

However, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the prosecution had "bootstrapped" the abuse charges into a forced labor conviction. "Child abuse is a state crime, but not a federal crime," Judge John Rogers wrote. "Forced labor is a federal crime [and] 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."

The fact that Toviave beat the children in his care with broomsticks, toilet plungers, sticks, ice scrapers, and phone charges if they failed to do their homework or household chores is child abuse -- a state crime for which Toviave was charged -- but it is not forced labor.

His actions, according to Judge Rogers, were "deplorable...but 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."

"Forcing children to do household chores," he continued, "cannot be forced labor without reading the statute as making most responsible American parents and guardians into federal criminals." Therefore, "Toviave's federal forced labor conviction must accordingly be reversed," Judge Rogers concluded.

Toviave will remain in jail on charges relating to the immigration documents he falsified in order to bring the children into the country.

It is not known whether prosecutors will now attempt to try him on state child abuse charges, or even if they can do so, because of double jeopardy prohibitions.

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