515 F.3d 260 (4th Cir. 2008), 06-4467, United States v. Udeozor

Docket Nº:06-4467.
Citation:515 F.3d 260
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Adaobi Stella UDEOZOR, a/k/a Adaobi Stella Obioha, a/k/a Stella Udeozor, a/k/a Adaobi Stella Obiaha, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:February 01, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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515 F.3d 260 (4th Cir. 2008)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Adaobi Stella UDEOZOR, a/k/a Adaobi Stella Obioha, a/k/a Stella Udeozor, a/k/a Adaobi Stella Obiaha, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 06-4467.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

February 1, 2008

Argued: Dec. 7, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Baltimore. Peter J. Messitte, District Judge. (8:03-cr-00470-PJM)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

ARGUED:

Victoria Toensing, diGenova & Toensing, L.L.P., Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Dirk Christian Phillips, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Brady Toensing, Joseph E. diGenova, diGenova & Toensing, L.L.P., Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, Jessica Dunsay Silver, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON and SHEDD, Circuit Judges, and John Preston BAILEY, United States District Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation.

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Affirmed by published opinion. Judge WILKINSON wrote the opinion, in which Judge SHEDD and Judge BAILEY joined.

OPINION

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge

We are asked to review the rulings of the district court in the trial and sentencing of Dr. Adaobi Stella Udeozor for conspiracy to hold another in involuntary servitude and for harboring a juvenile alien. Dr. Udeozor makes numerous claims regarding her conviction and sentence. Her three principal claims are as follows: one, the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of sexual abuse of the victim by Dr. Udeozor's former husband and co-conspirator; two, the district court improperly admitted recorded telephone conversations between Dr. Udeozor's co-conspirator and the victim; and three, the district court abused its discretion by including a special findings form on the second page of the general verdict form used to determine Dr. Udeozor's guilt or innocence. We find that these claims lack merit, and we affirm the defendant's conviction and sentence.

I.

On November 18, 2004, a jury convicted Dr. Udeozor on two counts. First, the jury convicted her of violating 18 U.S.C. § 371 (2000), which criminalizes conspiracy "to commit any offense against the United States," here, specifically, the knowing and willful holding of another in a condition of involuntary servitude. See 18 U.S.C. § 1584 (2000). Second, the jury convicted Dr. Udeozor of violating 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii) and (B)(i), which criminalize the harboring of an alien "for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain."

The facts underlying Dr. Udeozor's convictions are as follows. In 1996, Dr. Udeozor's husband, George Udeozor ("Mr. Udeozor"), induced a fourteen-year-old girl ("the victim") to leave her home country of Nigeria and to enter the United States. Mr. Udeozor promised the victim and her family that she could attend school in the United States, and that he would send payment to the victim's parents for her help in caring for the Udeozors' children. In October 1996, Mr. Udeozor brought the girl into the United States using his eldest daughter's passport.

The victim lived with the Udeozors from October 1996 until October 2001. During that time, the Udeozors required her to care for their children, to clean their house, and to cook for them. The victim testified at trial that she was also required to work in Dr. Udeozor's medical office, where she performed multiple tasks, including answering the phones, preparing patient charts, verifying patients' insurance information, and cleaning out medical examination rooms. The victim received no compensation for her work. The victim's father testified that he received only "[o]ne piece of cloth and a bag of rice." The Udeozors never enrolled the victim in any school.

During this time, the Udeozors subjected the victim to repeated physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. In particular, at trial, the victim testified that Dr. Udeozor hit her with an "open hand, and sometimes her fist, and then sometimes she would use her shoe." She also testified that Dr. Udeozor threw things at her, and that Dr. Udeozor "would twist and pull [her] ear." During one particular beating, the Udeozors forced the young girl to kneel and raise her hands above her head, after which Dr. Udeozor beat her in her sides with a flexible wooden cane, and Mr. Udeozor struck her in the hand with the

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metal part of a belt. After the beating, Dr. Udeozor forced the victim to continue kneeling for an additional forty-five minutes. This beating left the victim with marks on her sides and breathing difficulties. During another beating, Dr. Udeozor struck the victim with a shoe, causing her wrist to be dislocated. The victim never received any medical attention after any of these beatings.

The Udeozors also emotionally abused the victim. The Udeozors threatened to send the victim back to Nigeria, and they told her that the government would deport her if she left the house because she did not have "papers." Finally, between 1997 and 1999, Mr. Udeozor forced the victim - -on numerous occasions - -to engage in sexual intercourse with him, conduct which the government characterized in its argument at trial as "rape." The victim testified that Mr. Udeozor threatened to and did sexually assault her more frequently and more forcefully if his children misbehaved or suffered harm while in her care. Mr. Udeozor also warned the victim that if she spoke to anyone about the sexual assaults, he would tell her parents that she had become a prostitute.

While the Udeozors were at work and their children were at school, the victim - -who taught herself to use the computer - -conducted research on immigration and made contacts with non-profit groups about her situation. One of the victim's contacts suggested that she write a letter to Dr. Udeozor about her plight, which she did. The victim gave the letter to Dr. Udeozor on October 30, 2001, and a confrontation ensued. The victim subsequently called the police and ran to a neighbor's house. Once the police arrived, the victim left the Udeozors' home.

After the jury convicted Dr. Udeozor, on April 18, 2006, the district court sentenced her to 87 months' imprisonment and ordered her to pay the victim $110,249.60 in restitution.

Dr. Udeozor raises various claims on appeal. She contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of sexual abuse by Mr. Udeozor. She argues that the district court improperly admitted recorded telephone conversations between Mr. Udeozor and the victim. She further contends that the district court abused its discretion and tainted the jury verdict by including a special findings form on the second page of the verdict form used to determine her guilt or innocence. We address these claims in turn.

II.

Dr. Udeozor first contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting evidence that her former husband and co-conspirator Mr. Udeozor had engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim. Dr. Udeozor argues that this evidence should have been excluded under Fed. R. Evid. 403 because "its probative value [was] substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." We define undue prejudice as "a genuine risk that the emotions of the jury will be excited to irrational behavior, and that this risk is disproportionate to the probative value of the offered evidence." United States v. Ham, 998 F.2d 1247, 1252 (4th Cir. 1993) (internal quotations omitted). According to Dr. Udeozor, she was not aware of her husband's conduct, and that his conduct did not further the conspiracy with which she was charged. Thus, Dr. Udeozor argues, the government infected her entire trial with inflammatory evidence of rape that was committed not by her, but by her husband.

It is not an easy thing to overturn a Rule 403 ruling on appeal. Rule 403 is a rule of inclusion, "generally favor[ing]

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admissibility ...." United States v. Wells, 163 F.3d 889, 896 (4th Cir. 1998). District judges enjoy wide discretion to determine what evidence is admissible under the Rule. See United States v. Love, 134 F.3d 595, 603 (4th Cir. 1998). We "review a district court's admission of evidence over a Rule 403 objection under a broadly deferential standard." Id. (internal quotations omitted). Indeed, "[a] district court's decision to admit evidence over a Rule 403 objection will not be overturned except under the most extraordinary circumstances, where that discretion has been plainly abused." United States v. Williams, 445 F.3d 724, 732 (4th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations omitted). This deference is well warranted: "[T]rial judges are much closer to the pulse of a trial than [appellate judges] can ever be and broad discretion is necessarily accorded them ...." United States v. Tindle, 808 F.2d 319, 327 n.6 (4th Cir. 1986) (internal quotations omitted). Thus, when reviewing a trial court's decision to admit evidence under Rule 403, "we must look at the evidence in a light most favorable to its proponent, maximizing its probative value and minimizing its prejudicial effect." United States v. Simpson, 910 F.2d 154, 157 (4th Cir. 1990).

Judged against these standards, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence of Mr. Udeozor's sexual abuse of the victim. This is because the probative value of the evidence of sexual abuse is not, as Dr. Udeozor contends, "substantially outweighed" by any unfairly prejudicial effect. While we have stated that "no evidence could be more inflammatory or more prejudicial than allegations of child molestation," the Rule 403 inquiry requires us to weigh its probative value against the danger of harm. Ham, 998 F.2d at 1252. Here, evidence of sexual abuse - -even though committed...

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