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United States v. Woody.

No. 21-2007. 8/19/2022. D.N.M. Judge Ebel. Aggravated Sexual Abuse—Fourth Amendment—Consensual vs. Investigative Detention—Fifth Amendment Right Against Self-Incrimination—FRE 803(4) Hearsay Exception—Substantive Unreasonableness Challenge to Sentence.

August 19, 2022

In 2016, Jane Doe 1, an 8-year-old member of the Navajo Nation, told her father that defendant, her stepfather, had been sexually abusing her. Her father brought her to a hospital, where Jane Doe 1 told the attending ER physician that defendant had been molesting her, with the last incident occurring about 30 days before. The physician reported the abuse to Navajo Nation Social Services, which referred the case to the FBI.

In April 2018, two FBI special agents located defendant, who was repairing a car in a driveway. They suggested speaking somewhere with more privacy and moved into defendant’s niece’s mobile home. Defendant initially denied the allegations, but after one of the agents told him that if the abuse was a “one time thing” it would be “no big deal,” he said he might have done it when he was drunk. Defendant then admitted that he once in fact molested Jane Doe 1 but denied other instances against her or other victims.

Following this interview, the FBI agent spoke with Jane Doe 2, whose mother had been married to defendant for about 10 years until a separation in 2006. Jane Doe 2 reported multiple instances of abuse by defendant. In October 2018, defendant agreed to meet with the agents at a state police station for a polygraph exam and interview. The agent told defendant he was free to leave at any time. He also provided a Miranda form to defendant, and defendant said he understood his rights. Defendant agreed to answer questions without an attorney present and signed the advice-of-rights form. Before beginning the polygraph, upon questioning, defendant admitted to abusing Jane Doe 2 and to additional abuse of Jane Doe 1.

A grand jury charged defendant with aggravated sexual abuse of Jane Doe 1 and two counts of sexual contact with Jane Doe 2. Defendant filed motions to suppress the statements he made in the interviews. The district court denied the motions. The court also determined that the ER physician’s statements were admissible under the hearsay exception for statements made for the purpose of medical diagnosis. The jury convicted defendant on all 3 counts. A Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) recommended a life sentence. The district court ultimately agreed and sentenced defendant to life imprisonment on each count, to run concurrently. Defendant appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first held that defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated through the April 2018 encounter because the encounter was consensual. Based on a list of factors and the totality of the circumstances, the Tenth Circuit concluded that defendant did not show that a reasonable person in defendant’s position would have felt he was not free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter. Further, the FBI agent’s lie about one instance being “no big deal” went to the consequences of a confession and did not amount to coercion violative of the Fourth Amendment.

Second, the Tenth Circuit concluded that defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights were not violated when he was interrogated in October 2018 without an attorney present. Even if he was in custody, defendant plainly waived his Miranda rights before making the incriminating statements.

Third, while the ER physician’s testimony that Jane Doe 1 told him defendant abused her was hearsay, the statement was admissible under the FRE 803(4) exception for a statement made for medical diagnosis or treatment. Under precedent, a sexual abuser’s identity is admissible where the abuser has such an intimate relationship with the victim that the abuser’s identity becomes reasonably pertinent to the victim’s proper treatment. Here, the statement was pertinent because it was necessary to determine if Jane Doe 1 was in a safe environment.

Fourth, the Tenth Circuit rejected defendant’s contention that the life sentence was substantively unreasonable in light of the factors in 18 USC § 3553(a). The sentence was within the guideline range calculated by the PSR. While the district court identified 22 factors that put downward pressure on the sentence, it identified 53 factors that put upward pressure on the sentence. Certain mitigating facts did not demonstrate that the district court’s thorough analysis of the relevant factors was an abuse of discretion.

The convictions and sentences were affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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