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United States v. Lemons

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 7, 2015

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
Brandy Lemons, Defendant - Appellant

Submitted December 12, 2014.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Tracy Berry, U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Missouri, Saint Louis, MO.

Brandy Lemons, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Saint Louis, MO.

For Brandy Lemons, Defendant - Appellant: Matthew Alan Radefeld, Frank & Juengel., Saint Louis, MO.

Before WOLLMAN, COLLOTON, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

Brandy Lemons was convicted of making a false statement to the government and theft of government funds in connection with receipt of social security disability benefits. The district court[1] sentenced her to a term of 12 months and a day in prison. Lemons challenges several evidentiary rulings at trial and asserts a procedural error at sentencing. We affirm.

I.

Lemons applied for social security disability benefits in June 2009 after she was diagnosed with arachnoiditis, a pain disorder caused by inflammation of a membrane that surrounds the nerves of the spinal cord. In her application, Lemons asserted that pain and fatigue required her to limit her activities, and that all physical activity caused her additional pain in her neck, back, and legs.

The state agency that processes disability claims for the Social Security Administration denied her application, but she appealed successfully to an administrative law judge. The ALJ awarded benefits, effective in March 2008. In May 2010, Lemons began to receive $802 per month. The ALJ, having been advised that Lemons's condition was expected to improve with treatment, recommended a follow-up review in May 2011. But the Administration failed to conduct the review and never contacted Lemons.

In June 2011, the Administration received an anonymous letter disclosing that Lemons was capable of engaging in physical activities that were inconsistent with her claim of a back injury. The mailing included photographs of Lemons using a chainsaw to cut tree limbs while in the tree and then cutting those limbs into smaller pieces on the ground. The pictures also captured Lemons pulling her three-year-old son up a hill in a wagon. At trial, another son, John David Jackson, testified that he took these photographs in June 2011.

The Administration started an investigation. Investigators conducting surveillance at Lemons's residence in September 2011 saw her take out the trash, pick up her young son, and push her son in a shopping cart for extended periods of time. They followed Lemons to a concert venue and saw her standing and walking for over an hour without assistance or appearance of pain. They also discovered posts on Lemons's Facebook page suggesting that Lemons hunted game with a bow, attended hunter safety classes, and rode an all-terrain vehicle for two hours.

In October 2011, the Administration initiated the follow-up review that had been recommended by the ALJ; the review covered May 28, 2010, through October 11, 2011. Lemons responded that she had no hobbies or interests, could not pick up anything over 20 pounds without causing increased pain, and could not sit more than thirty minutes without experiencing additional pain. She wrote that any physical activity caused increased pain, and that her condition affected ...


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