The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit – the same that oversees federal cases out of Alabama – has affirmed the conviction of a Florida man for travel in foreign commerce to engage in sex with a minor, four counts of travel in commerce to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempting travel in foreign commerce for the later purpose.
All of these are violations of federal law, and defendant sought to have his conviction overturned. However, the appellate panel rejected the arguments he made in U.S. v. Carter.
Criminal appeals can sometimes yield favorable results for defendants. However, it's especially important that the case be handled well by the defense attorney at trial. Appeals can only stem from arguments and objections properly preserved at trial. The one notable exception is inefficient legal counsel, but that's often very difficult to prove.
Our experienced criminal defense lawyers are committed to representing our clients both at the trial level and, if necessary, on appeal.
In this case, defendant argued the jury instructions were legally incorrect and constituted an abuse of discretion and reversible error. Defendant also objected to the district court's decision to refuse depositions be taken from five foreign witnesses, as well as admittance of a partially-redacted U.S. State Department cable reporting his 1990 arrest in Egypt for alleged child molestation.
The court rejected these arguments.
According to court records, defendant is an American who ran a residential facility in Haiti that provided food, shelter, schools and other amenities to youths whose families could not afford it. There was also a health clinic, which provided free services to residents following the 2010 earthquake. Defendant operated the center from 1995 until 2011. He traveled back and forth from the U.S. to the center during that time.
However, a number of those youth later came forward to say he had been sexually abusing young boys for years. He was arrested in Miami in 2011.
It was later revealed one of the key witnesses had told law enforcement officials there was no abuse and there had been nothing improper going on at the center, the clinic or at the hands of the offender. The government indicated those statements were based on law enforcement notes, and not recorded statements taken under oath.
Still, the government didn't object to defense raising this issue, so long as the question wasn't formed as hearsay. The government also objected to “theatrical use of law enforcement reports,” involving a defense lawyer reading from them and waiving them around before a jury, saying such actions were “inappropriate” and gave the impression the attorney was reading from an official document or witness statement, when in fact he isn't.
During cross-examination at trial, the witness conceded that during his first meeting with law enforcement he denied knowledge of sexual activity involving the defendant. Ultimately, witness admitted he had not told government agents of abuse until just prior to trial because he was ashamed.
There were also a number of defense requests to depose foreign witnesses who would testify they never suspected any wrongdoing at the center. However, the court denied these motions as speculative and immaterial. The government offered to stipulate certain facts to which those witnesses would testify, including that they never observed defendant engaged in illicit sexual conduct with children. However, defense rejected this, arguing nothing was comparative to hearing from those witnesses directly.
Additionally, evidence was presented regarding defendant's prior arrest on sexual molestation charges in Egypt. He testified in court the arrest was because the government falsely accused him of being a spy. Prosecutors sought to refute this testimony and impeach defendant with state department cables indicating the allegations involved sexual abuse of a young boy who lived with defendant. The court allowed the cable, but redacted the comments portion that referenced defendant's own statements about the arrest, which tended to indicate he knew the arrest was not for spying.
Defendant was ultimately convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
On appeal, defendant argued trial court erred and he should receive a new trial. However, appellate court found no reversible error. Specifically with regard to the deposition of foreign witnesses, the justices ruled trial courts have discretion in weighing how material the evidence is to the case, versus how challenging it will be to obtain it. Here, the justices found trial court did not err in its ultimate decision.
U.S. v. Carter, Jan. 27, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit