8th Circuit upholds child sex abuse conviction
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of Frank Sanchez, who was found guilty by a federal jury for the 2006 sexual molestation of a 9-year-old girl.
He said in his appeal that the court should not have allowed other accusers to testify. And he said federal authorities did not prove that the incident happened on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, a required element to give them jurisdiction over the case.
Sanchez was charged in 2019 with sexually touching a 9-year-old girl twice in 2006. One incident occurred within the boundaries of the Yankton Sioux Reservation, and so federal authorities handled the case. The jury found him guilty of that count but not the other, which occurred on state land.
Sanchez was also charged with the 1996 sexual contact of a different girl, under the age of 12, but the jury did not find him guilty.
Both witnesses were adults by the time they testified at trial, as was a third witness who told the jury about a 1984 assault.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Annie Hoffman explained the situation at oral arguments in May.
“Her testimony was that it happened when she was about 6 years old, that Frank Sanchez sexually abused her.”
Hoffman said the allegation was too old to be charged criminally, but U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier found the victim’s testimony admissible to show that Sanchez had a sexual propensity for young girls.
“The judge did acknowledge that, yup, this happened a long time ago, but that goes more towards the weight and not the admissibility,” Hoffman said.
The Eighth Circuit says in its opinion that propensity evidence is relevant when the prior sex crimes were committed in the same manner as the charged offense. The appellate court says it has not, in its previous opinions, imposed a time limit on that evidence.
The court notes that the jury convicted Sanchez of one count but not the others, indicating they were able to evaluate the evidence and make an objective ruling on its relevance.
As for whether the crime happened within reservation boundaries, the court says that the jury saw an aerial photo and a title status report, and they heard testimony from a veteran trust agent for the Yankton Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Eighth Circuit found that the jury had a reasonable basis to find that the crime occurred on tribal land.