Monday, August 06, 2007

Minor Victim's Statements to Fellow Plane Passengers are Excited Utterances; Government Need Not Prove Defendant Knew Age of Victim

US v. Jennings: Jennings was convicted of abusive sexual conduct with a minor based on his actions on a flight from San Diego to Dulles, during which he hit on, groped, and fondled a 13 year old girl. On appeal, Jennings made several arguments regarding his trial, which were rejected by the Fourth Circuit.

First, Jennings argued that the district court erred by admitting into evidence the testimony of two other passengers on the flight who recounted allegations the victim made against him during the flight. The court held that the statements were properly admitted as excited utterances under FRE 803(2) and rejected Jennings argument that the five minutes that passed between the alleged events and the victim's recitation of them to another passenger gave her sufficient time to reflect upon her statements. Second, Jennings argued that the Government was required to prove (and failed to do so) that he knew the victim was between 12 and 16 years of age. Applying plain error review (Jennings first raised the issue in a motion for a new trial), the court found there to be no error, plain or otherwise, based on the language of the statute. Finally, Jennings argued that the district court erred by giving the jury a deliberate ignorance instruction. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in giving that instruction.

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