Monday, February 04, 2008

Court Affirms Involuntary Servitude Convictions Against Hearsay, Crawford Challenges

US v. Udeozor: Udeozor: and her (now former) husband helped a 14-year old Nigerian girl emigrate to the United States. They told her family that she would be enrolled in school, but she wasn't. In fact, she became basically an indentured servant, working for the family for five years without payment or any kind of compensation. She was repeatedly subjected to physical, emotional, and (by Udeozor's husband) sexual abuse. Udeozor was convicted of conspiracy to hold another in involuntary servitude and harboring an alien for commercial advantage or private gain. She was sentenced to 87 months in prison and to pay restitution to the victim of over $100,000.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit rejected several of Udeozor's arguments on the way towards upholding the convictions. First, the court held that the district court did not err by admitting evidence of Udeozor's husband's sexual abuse of the victim during Udeozor's trial. The court concluded that the use of sexual abuse to maintain control of the victim was part of the conspiracy between Udeozor and her husband, even if there was conflicting evidence as to whether she knew about the abuse. Second, the court held that recordings of phone conversations between Udeozor's husband and the victim were properly admitted as statements against penal interest under FRE 804(b)(3). The court also rejected Udeozor's confrontation argument, holding that her husband's statements (made to the victim who was acting at police behest) were not "testimonial" and thus not subject to a Crawford analysis. Finally, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by using a two-page verdict form, with three special findings (on sentencing issues) on the second page.

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