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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today

In U.S. v. Jonassen (ND Ind., Moody), a 21-page opinion, Judge Sykes writes:

Martin Jonassen kidnapped his 21-year-old daughter E.J. from her home in Missouri and took her to a motel in Indiana, where he held her against her will and sexually assaulted her. On the third day of her captivity, E.J. managed to escape and was seen fleeing naked from the motel, rope still tied around her leg, desperately screaming for help. Jonassen chased her through the street and into a nearby liquor store, and after a violent struggle, recaptured her. Police responding to the scene arrested him in the liquor store parking lot. E.J. described the ordeal to police, and Jonassen faced serious federal felony charges.

Almost immediately after he was arrested, Jonassen began a concerted effort to get E.J. to recant. She did not do so, but the intimidation was successful in the sense that it made her unavailable as a witness. Although she had cooperated with the government when Jonassen was indicted and throughout the pretrial period, she suddenly clammed up when called to testify at trial, saying “I don’t remember” (or something equivalent) in response to all of the prosecutor’s questions. The government moved to admit her statements to police under Rule 804(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which allows admission of hearsay against a party who wrongfully procures a witness’s unavailability. The district court granted the motion. The jury convicted Jonassen of kidnapping, see 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1), and obstruction of justice, see id. § 1512(b)(1), and the court imposed a lengthy prison sentence.

Jonassen raises three issues on appeal. First, he argues that the district court should have conducted a competency hearing under 18 U.S.C. § 4241. Second, he challenges the court’s decision to admit E.J.’s prior statements under Rule 804(b)(6). Finally, he argues that the court erred in denying his posttrial motion regarding Jencks Act material. See 18 U.S.C. § 3500.

We reject these arguments and affirm. The district court properly declined to conduct a competency hearing. Although Jonassen asserted bizarre legal theories based on his claim of “sovereign citizenship,” that alone does not provide a reason to doubt his competence to stand trial, and the record does not otherwise suggest that he lacked the ability to understand the proceedings. The court’s evidentiary ruling also was sound. The government laid an ample foundation for admission of the hearsay statements under Rule 804(b)(6); the evidence established that Jonassen used bribery, guilt, and various forms of psychological intimidation to procure E.J.’s unavailability. Finally, because Jonassen did not request Jencks Act material before the close of trial, his claim for relief under the Act necessarily fails.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 16, 2014 02:47 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions