May 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: District Court Did Not Err in Finding Assault Occurred Despite Poor Quality Evidence

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Henry on Friday, February 3, 2017. Panel rehearing was granted for the sole purpose of adding a footnote; that opinion is available here.

Tremale Henry finished a prison sentence for violating federal drug laws and was under supervised release for five years thereafter. During his five year supervised release, Mr. Henry was found by the district court to be responsible for two separate assaults with a dangerous weapon. The district court sentenced Mr. Henry to a 24-month prison term followed by six further years of supervised release. Mr. Henry argues that the district court impermissibly relied on hearsay when reaching its judgment.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Mr. Henry’s first assault charge. In finding that Mr. Henry committed this assault, the district court relied on statements from a witness, Candace Ramsey. Ms. Ramsey testified that she saw Mr. Henry lunge at his victim with a small object, but that she could not see exactly what that object was. A probation officer then testified that Ms. Ramsey told him before the hearing that she saw Mr. Henry use a knife. The district court apparently credited this hearsay. Additionally, the district court relied on a surveillance video that showed Mr. Henry make rapid movements towards the victim. Although the video quality was poor and a knife could not clearly visible, the district court found that the reaction of the victim was consistent with a violent assault with a dangerous weapon. The district court found that all of these facts taken together established that Mr. Henry committed the first assault with a dangerous weapon.

The Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not err in its finding regarding the first assault. The Tenth Circuit stated that the usual rules of evidence do not apply in revocation hearings, and that the Supreme Court has allowed hearsay into supervised release proceedings. The Tenth Circuit went on to state that Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(b)(2)(C) grants a defendant in a revocation hearing the opportunity to question any adverse witness. Additionally, in United States v. Jones, the Tenth Circuit held that the application of Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) requires a district court to conduct a balancing test to weigh “the defendant’s interests in confronting a witness against the government’s interest in foregoing the witness’s appearance.”

The Tenth Circuit held that neither Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) nor Jones was applicable with regard to the first instance of the assault charge because the witness was available for cross-examination. Ms. Ramsey did appear at the hearing and Mr. Henry had the chance to question her about her hearsay statement. Additionally, Mr. Henry did not provide evidence to establish that his minimal due process rights were violated.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the second assault charge, which consisted of the stabbing of the victim. The district court relied on out-of-court statements that the victim and the victim’s girlfriend made to a police detective. That detective then relayed the statements to Mr. Henry’s probation officer. Mr. Henry’s probation officer presented these statements at the revocation hearing, but neither the victim, his girlfriend, nor the detective was subject to cross-examination. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) and Jones did apply to this assault charge, and that the district court failed to conduct the balancing test Jones required.

The Tenth Circuit held that the district courts failure to apply the relevant tests was not a harmless error. The Tenth Circuit came to this conclusion because it determined that the district court considered both assault charges when it fashioned its sentence. Therefore, the error was not harmless and the Tenth Circuit remanded the case back to the district court for resentencing.

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