The two human trafficking cases currently before the North Central Judicial District Court at the Ward County Courthouse in Minot could be joined, if the state has its way.
Judge William W. McLees heard oral argument Wednesday afternoon between the state, represented by Deputy Ward County State's Attorney Kelly Dillon and the lawyers for both defendants.
Loc Bao Tran, 32, was present in court with his attorney, Robert W. Martin, of the North Dakota Public Defenders Minot office. Fellow defendant Trina Phuong Nguyen, 32, was not present in court but her attorney, Gregory Scott Hoover, who practices in Seattle, was. Nguyen is still incarcerated in Stark County and Hoover had not filed a motion for her presence there that afternoon.
The two Class A felony charges both arose from a business operating under the name of "The Mann's Club" in northeast Minot that closed in May 2013 after police allege that it was a house of prostitution. It allegedly employed Vietnamese women as masseuses but forced them into providing sexual services for a price.
The full investigation was covered in The Minot Daily News on Sept. 12, 2013, and is available online (alturl.com/3e8h3).
For the most part all attorneys deferred to or clarified points already made in briefs filed in the matter.
"Both defendants are charged with human trafficking. The charges in these files involve the same investigation by the same law enforcement officers, involving the same defendants and the same transactions and witnesses. The defendants were charged in the same complaint," Dillon wrote in her brief compelling the court to join the two cases for trial.
"(Rules for joinder) provides that two or more cases may be tried together if the offenses and the defendants could have been joined in a single complaint," she continued. "Such is the case with these files."
She argued that the defendants were both charged in the same complaint, that the same events led to both charges and that the witnesses will be the same for both.
Hoover and Martin shared similar objections to the joinder of the cases. Their arguments centered around possible prejudices that could arise against their clients should they be co-defendants with one another at trial.
"In cases in which the state requests joinder of defendants, the court must weigh the considerations of judicial economy against the defendant's right to a fair trial," Hoover wrote in his response brief.
Martin, in oral argument, said that Nguyen already has a criminal record including charges related to prostitution and should that criminal history be brought up against her in the trial then it will, in turn, prejudice the jury against his client who does not have that criminal history.
"It's guilt by association," he said.