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United States v. Claire

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 5, 2016

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Ervin L. St. Claire Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: June 16, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of North Dakota - Bismarck

          Before MURPHY, BRIGHT, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

          SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

         Following a jury trial, Ervin St. Claire ("St. Claire") was convicted of three counts of aggravated sexual abuse in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 2241(c), as well as three counts of abusive sexual contact in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 2244(a)(5). St. Claire appeals his conviction and sentence, arguing that the district court[1] abused its discretion in admitting testimony from a fourth alleged victim, whom St. Claire has not been charged with assaulting, and in imposing a life sentence. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

         I.

         St. Claire is married to Veronica St. Claire ("Veronica"), with whom he lived in Dunseith, North Dakota. Occasionally, Veronica's grandchildren visited their home.

         Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent John Rogers received a Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Report alleging that St. Claire had sexually abused one of his step-granddaughters. Special Agent Rogers began an investigation, which revealed purported sexual abuse of three of St. Claire's step-granddaughters and ultimately led to St. Claire being charged with six counts of sexual abuse of children or minors.

         St. Claire was initially indicted for aggravated sexual abuse of two children under the age of twelve in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 2241(c) (Counts One and Two); abusive sexual contact of a child under the age of twelve in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 2244(a)(5) (Count Three); and abusive sexual contact with a minor between the ages of twelve and sixteen in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 2244(a)(3) (Count Four). A superseding indictment was later returned adding an additional count of aggravated sexual abuse of a child under the age of twelve (Count Five) and another count of sexual abusive contact of a child under the age of twelve (Count Six). Counts Five and Six were added for the alleged abuse of the third step-granddaughter.

         St. Claire's trial commenced in June 2015. At trial, a fourth step-granddaughter, ML, whom St. Claire had not been charged with assaulting, testified over St. Claire's objection. ML recounted that St. Claire unbuttoned her pants and put his hands under her underwear when she was about three years of age. ML was sixteen years of age at the time of trial.

         The jury found St. Claire guilty on all six counts. The statutory range for Counts One, Two, and Five was 30 years to life. 18 U.S.C. § 2241(c). The maximum term of imprisonment for Counts Three and Six was life. 18 U.S.C. § 2244(a)(5). The maximum term of imprisonment for Count Four was two years. 18 U.S.C. § 2244(a)(3). At sentencing, the district court determined that St. Claire's total offense level under the United States Sentencing Guidelines ("U.S.S.G.") was 53, which put him ten levels above the maximum offense level of 43. See U.S.S.G. ch. 5, pt. A, cmt. n.2. The district court further determined that St. Claire had a Criminal History Category of III. This combination of total offense level and criminal history resulted in a recommended guideline range of life. Neither the defense nor the government objected to the district court's guideline determination. The government recommended an overall sentence of life imprisonment, and St. Claire requested a sentence of 30 years. The district court imposed concurrent life sentences on Counts One, Two, Three, Five, and Six, as well as a concurrent two-year term of imprisonment on Count Four.

         II.

         St. Claire appeals his conviction and sentence. He argues the district court abused its discretion by allowing ML's testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 414 and by imposing a substantively unreasonable life sentence. We will consider his arguments in turn.

         A.

         We review evidentiary rulings made by the district court for abuse of discretion. United States v. Hollow Horn, 523 F.3d 882, 887 (8th Cir. 2008). We reverse "only when an improper evidentiary ruling affected the defendant's substantial rights or had more than a slight influence on the verdict." United States v. Picardi, 739 F.3d 1118, 1124 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 1 ...


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