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United States v. Edwards

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 25, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES EDWARDS, Defendant.

          James D. Tierney Acting United States Attorney Nicholas James Marshall Novaline Wilson Assistant United States Attorneys United States Attorney's Office Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorneys for the Plaintiff.

          Marshall J. Ray Law Offices of Marshall J. Ray LLC Albuquerque, New Mexico and Nicole Moss The Law Office of Nicole W. Moss Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorneys for the Defendant.

          UNSEALED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the United States' Sealed Motion in Limine to Exclude Katherine[2] [sic] Armijo's Testimony, filed May 26, 2017 (Doc. 60)(“Motion”). The Court held a hearing on June 22, 2017. The primary issue is whether the Defendant, James Edwards, should be allowed to call Catherine Armijo to testify about a conversation that she had with V.S., even though Plaintiff United States of America argues that the testimony is hearsay, impermissible expert testimony, and highly prejudicial under rule 412 of the Federal Rules Evidence. See Motion at 1. The Court will grant in part and deny in part the United States' Motion, because, while Armijo's testimony would be hearsay, some of her testimony falls within an exception to the hearsay rule.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court considers it appropriate to first provide some background facts. The Court takes most of its facts from the Redacted Indictment, filed July 12, 2016 (Doc. 2)(“Indictment”), and therefore recognizes these facts largely derive from the United States' version of events. The Court provides these facts to contextualize Edwards' Motion and emphasizes that Edwards is presumed innocent.

         The United States charges Edwards with aggravated sexual abuse, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153, 2241(a), and 2246(2)(B). See Indictment at 1. The Indictment identifies both Edwards and the alleged victim of the aggravated sexual abuse, V.S., as Indians, and charges that the aggravated sexual abuse occurred in Indian Country, namely, in Cibola County. See Indictment at 1. On July 12, 2016, a grand jury charged Edwards with unlawfully and knowingly engaging in a sexual act by force. See Indictment at 1. The Indictment states that the act occurred between the dates of December 25, 2014, and January 31, 2015. See Indictment at 1. The Indictment identifies the sexual act as contact between Edwards' mouth and V.S.' vulva. See Indictment at 1.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The Court will lay out the procedural history of the Motion, response, and testimony concerning the Motion. The United States filed the Motion on May 26, 2017. The Court held a hearing on June 22, 2017. During the hearing, the parties mostly stuck to their briefing.

         1. The Motion.

         The United States asks the Court to exclude Armijo's testimony, “because it is hearsay, impermissible expert testimony, and highly prejudicial under Fed.R.Evid. 412.” Motion at 1. The United States identifies Armijo as a potential witness from Edwards' Witness List (Doc. 54) and states that Armijo's testimony concerns “alleged statements regarding the victim. . . [and] Ms. Armijo's statements would only serve to confuse the jury. Moreover, Ms. Armijo has not formally been disclosed as an expert on traditional healing practices to this Court or to the United States pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(b)(1)(C).” Motion at 1.

         The United States next provides its version of the background facts. See Motion at 1. The United States asserts that Edwards, a medicine man within his community whom members of the community respect to administer traditional healing rubs, contacted his mouth to V.S.' vulva during one of the rubs. See Motion at 1-2. The United States then states that Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent Marcelino ToersBijns interviewed Edwards' sister, Armijo, as part of his investigation into Edwards. See Motion at 2. The United States then asserts that Armijo “made statements regarding prior conversations she allegedly had with the victim and statements about Ms. Armijo's experience with sexual contact during her own traditional healing ceremonies. The United States anticipates that Ms. Armijo will testify on these issues on behalf of the Defendant at trial.” Motion at 2.

The United States specifically seeks a ruling concerning Armijo's statements; “about [the alleged victim's] use of marijuana and any perceived addiction to marijuana. The allegation that [the alleged victim] calls ‘rape' on men when they don't give [her] what [she] wants, and Ms. Armijo's statements about the acceptance of female nudity and practice of touching of female [genitalia] during a traditional healing ceremony.”

Motion at 2.

         The Court recites the exchange between Armijo and ToersBijns in full, because of its pertinence:

Katherine [sic] Armijo: Okay? But she goes, “Oh, if I ever want to get even with him, I'll just call rape.” And I was like, “You are sick.” And I told James, “Don't ever be alone with her. Don't ever, you know, doctor her alone. Don't ever --anything alone with that girl. She's not right.”

Motion at 2 (quoting Recorded Interview of Catherine Armijo Re: James Edwards Sr. (taken April 7, 2015), filed June 21, 2017 (Doc. 60-1)(“Armijo Interview”).

Katherine [sic] Armijo: And she goes, “Yeah, ” she goes, “I'll get even with him. I'll just -- I'll just -- I'll just cry rape.” And I said, “Why would you do that? They could go [sic] to prison for that. You know, why would you do that?” And she goes, “Because they'll give me what I want eventually, you know.” And she says, ” I'll drop all the charges.” She said, “I've done it before.” I was like, “You're sick.” I was like, “You're sick.” And -- and I told James, you know, I --back then I said, “James, she's -- you know, she said she would pull something like that if” -- I said, “Did she ask you for anything? Did she want something from you?”

Motion at 3 (quoting Armijo Interview).

         Armijo contends: “I said, did she ever want anything from you? And he said, yeah. She wanted smoke. I said, and you didn't give it to her? And he goes, no. And he goes that's why -- I told him, that's why you're getting this.” Motion at 3 (quoting Armijo Interview).

Katherine [sic] Armijo: And she said, “Oh, if they don't give me what I want or they don't do what I want” -- you know.
SA ToersBijns: Men? Men?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: Men in general. She said, “I just call -- I just call rape. I just scream rape, ” she said. And I was like, “Holy mother” -- You know, and I told James, “Don't ever doctor this girl.” That was back then, you know, in 2010, '11, something like that. I said, “Don't ever doctor this girl alone. Don't ever be alone with this girl.”

Motion at 3 (quoting Armijo Interview).

Katherine [sic] Armijo: And she had taken off her clothes [sic] and was just lying [sic] on the bed.
SA ToersBijns: Okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: And he went in, and then he like turned around and walked right back out and he was laughing. And I had already gotten dressed. I come -- I came out of the room. The rooms were like right across from each other, and I came out of the room and I go, “What's so funny?” And he goes, “She's naked in there.” I was like, “What?” He goes, “She naked.” I said, “I told her the women change in here.” He goes, “She went in there.” And I was like, “Don't go in there.” I told my boys, “Don't go in there.”
SA ToersBijns: Okay. Did he - did James go back in there?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: No. No, he did not. No, he did not. No. He -- he just was like -- you know, he told me, he goes, “She's nuts.” And I was like, “You think?” He never went back in there. He never touched her. I know. I was there.
SA ToersBijns: Did you ask him if he touched her or anything?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: No.
SA ToersBijns: No?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: There was no point. I mean, he came -- the door opened, he walked in for a second, and came right back out. There wasn't enough time --
SA ToersBijns: Okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: -- for him to go in there and do anything to her. You know. So, no, no, he wouldn't have done that.
SA ToersBijns: Okay. Anything else that night?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: That I can remember, not -- not -- just that she really wanted to go. She was desperate for her weed. I was hoping this is what would help, you know.
SA ToersBijns: Um-hmm.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: I was really hoping that would help. And she really wanted to go, so we -- I took her and -- and that's when she had said -- I was driving her -
SA ToersBijns: Okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: -- to where she wanted to go, and that's when she had said about that, “I'll -- I'll -- you know, if they don't do what I want, I'll just -- I just call rape.”
SA ToersBijns: Okay. I thought you said that she said that back when you first met her?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: Yeah. And it was -- it was during that time. She -- she had come to my house -- well, no, I met her at Snaky's house. You're right, that's wrong. Because she had said it at my house. It was at my house. It's been a long time.
SA ToersBijns: (Inaudible) sweat?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: I'm sorry.
SA ToersBijns: That's okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: I'm not trying to be dishonest with you. I really am not.
SA ToersBijns: Okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: I'm trying to be honest with you and I'm trying to remember, but that's been five years. And in five years, I went through a nightmare you couldn't believe.
SA ToersBijns: Okay. So -- but she only said that once to you?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: Yeah.
SA ToersBijns: Correct?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: She said that once.
SA ToersBijns: About getting even with men, she'll call rape?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: Yeah. If she doesn't get what she wants from a man, she'll -- she'll scream rape. That's what she does.
SA ToersBijns: So does your memory recall now that it was probably in the car or was it when you met her at the house?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: No, it was in the car. It was definitely in the car.
SA ToersBijns: So the house is wrong?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: Because it was -- yeah, the house is wrong --
SA ToersBijns: Okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: -- and I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
SA ToersBijns: That's okay.
Katherine [sic] Armijo: It was in the car, because I was dropping her off at some friend's house. She was trying to go get -- she was trying to score.

Motion at 3-5 (quoting Armijo Interview).

SA ToersBijns: And the recent call before Easter when he called you and said, “A police officer may come, ” he didn't give no details, have you ever talked about him and [the alleged victim] before?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: No.
SA ToersBijns: No?
Katherine [sic] Armijo: ...

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