In United States v. Doak, No. 19-15106 (Sept. 7, 2022) (Grant, Luck, Hull), the Court largely affirmed the defendants’ convictions and sentences for offenses involving the transportation and sexual abuse of minors.
As to the counts under 2423(a)—charging the transportation of minors with the intent that they engage in unlawful sexual activity—the defendants argued that the indictment was insufficient because it omitted the underlying state statutes prohibiting the sexual activity. The Court rejected that argument because the specific state-law offenses are means rather than elements of a 2423(a) offense. Thus, the state statutes did not need to be included in the indictment; including the statutory language of 2423(a) was enough. Nor were the defendants deprived of fair notice; although it is best practice to include the state statutes, the indictment here contained key details about the defendant’s intended sexual activity.
The Court next rejected the defendants’ sufficiency arguments. As for the main defendant, the evidence at trial was sufficient for a jury to find that he transported the minors with an intent to sexually abuse the minors; even if he had other innocent reasons as well, that did not allow him to elude liability. As for the co-defendant, who was convicted of aiding and abetting, the evidence was sufficient for a jury to find that she helped the other defendant transport the minors with the knowledge that he was sexually abusing them; it did not matter whether she disapproved of his conduct.
The Court next rejected the defendants’ evidentiary arguments. First, the Court found that any error under Rule 412 in preventing the defense to offer evidence about one of the victim’s other sexual behavior was harmless; that evidence was offered to show that someone else had abuse her, but the defense was otherwise permitted to advance that theory, and the contrary evidence was substantial. Second, the Court rejected the defendants’ argument that an FBI forensic expert’s testimony about how children process and disclose incidents of abuse was unreliable, as the expert had participated in thousands of such interviews, and the testimony helped the jury understand why the victims responded differently to the abuse. Third, the district court did not abuse its discretion under Rule 404(b) or 403 by admitting a video of the defendant slapping the victims’ brother, since it explained why the victims felt threatened by the defendants and why they silently endured the abuse.
As for sentencing, the government cross-appealed the co-defendant’s statutory minimum sentence, arguing that it was substantively unreasonable. However, the Court found no abuse of discretion: the district court did not improperly give her a lower sentence because she merely helped the main defendant as an aider and abettor; it did not overlook her own abuse of the minors and lack of remorse; and because the district court’s weighing of the 3553(a) factors was a close call, that meant there was no abuse of discretion even though the Court might have gone the other way. In addition, the district court did not clearly err by imposing a special assessment; the defendant was not indigent because he previously failed to disclose that he owned real estate. Finally, as to restitution, the district court properly relied on a clinical psychologist’s testimony about estimated therapy costs, but the district court erred by ordering the defendants to pay more in living expenses than what the victim herself admitted was an overestimate.