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Mejia v. United States

916 A.2d 900 (2007)

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Mejia v. United States

District of Columbia Court of Appeals

916 A.2d 900 (2007)

Facts

Rodrigo Mejia (defendant) was charged with misdemeanor sexual abuse of his nine-year-old niece J.C. Before trial, J.C. recanted her allegations, but the prosecutor warned her she could get in trouble for lying and played a tape of her interview with a police detective. J.C. testified at trial that the abuse had occurred. On redirect, J.C. explained that she had recanted because she loved her cousins, she did not want anything bad to happen to her uncle, and her grandmother said her uncle could be sent back to El Salvador. The judge found Mejia guilty, articulated reasons for the verdict, said she was “prepared to go to sentencing,” and asked for a pretrial-services report. A discussion ensued about when to schedule the sentencing hearing, and the judge said she thought the verdict would disrupt the Mejia family dynamics. The judge commented that perhaps she was not clear about some cultural issues. She said, “in countries like El Salvador and even . . . in frankly places in the surrounding jurisdiction, there are very young girls who are 12 and 13, 14 and 15 who are married of black descent.” The judge said she was unclear and did not know but maybe counsel could help and clarified that she was not suggesting that sexualizing young girls at a very early age was “cultural in general” but did not know if it was going on in Mejia’s case. The judge continued that she did not know when Mejia came to this country, how long he had been in El Salvador, or what his immigration status was, but she invited counsel to explain it or defer sentencing until a later time. Mejia appealed his conviction arguing the judge’s statements showed bias or prejudice based on national origin.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nebeker, J.)

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