US v. DeLeon: A jury convicted DeLeon of the second-degree murder and assault of his 8-year-old step-son. In this appeal, DeLeon raised five issues for review: whether the district court erred in 1) admitting a social worker’s hearsay testimony in violation of DeLeon’s 6th Amendment right to confrontation; 2) admitting hearsay testimony of a social worker, a Japanese woman who encountered the boy in the street, and DeLeon’s step-daughter in violation of the rules of evidence; 3) limiting the defense expert’s testimony; 4) admitting under 404(b) DeLeon’s prior acts of physical punishment of his step-children; and 5) treating the age of the boy as a sentencing factor to be determined by the court, not the jury.
The boy, Jordan, died of internal injuries that resulted from blunt force trauma. Five months prior to Jordan’s death, the family met with a social worker to deal with suspected child abuse in the family home. The social worker had several subsequent meetings with Jordan and the family to provide counseling, but to no avail. No one could testify to witnessing the specific acts that caused Jordan’s injuries, so the case was entirely circumstantial. Additionally, Jordan’s younger sister later recanted the statements she made to police in investigations shortly after Jordan’s death, which described a history of child abuse. Many of the admissions that DeLeon objected to at trial were statements detailing the abuse Jordan suffered.
DeLeon’s first constitutional claim, that the admission of the social worker’s hearsay testimony violated his 6th Amendment right to confrontation, failed because the statements Jordan made to the social worker were made during a course of therapy for the purposes of developing a plan of treatment, and thus, the statements were not made in anticipation of a criminal action or investigation, nor were the statements testimonial.
DeLeon’s other constitutional claim, that his 6th Amendment rights were violated by the imposing of a mandatory minimum sentence based on Jordan’s age, which was not a question of fact put to the jury. The Fourth Circuit concluded that under the statute governing DeLeon’s second degree murder conviction, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(f)(1), age is a sentencing factor rather than an element of the crime. Additionally, the age of the victim is not a characteristic of the offender, so legal tradition supports the conclusion that age is a sentencing factor.