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United States v. Holly

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth


The federal government (plaintiff) charged Melvin Holly (defendant) with five counts of felony deprivation of constitutionally protected rights under color of law involving aggravated sexual abuse, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. Section 242's use of "aggravated sexual abuse" required reference to 18 U.S.C. § 2241(a), which provides that an individual commits aggravated sexual abuse if he knowingly causes another person to engage in a sexual act by using force against the person, or by threatening and placing the person in fear that someone will be subjected to "death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping." The trial evidence established that Holly, a county sheriff, raped or tried to rape five female inmates of the county jail. All five women testified that Holly kept his gun nearby on each occasion, and that they feared Holly would harm them if they resisted, although Holly explicitly threatened only one of the women, Amber Helmert. In addition to staring at his gun, Holly pushed, grabbed, and groped Helmert, and said he would to "get to" Helmert's nine-year-old "awfully cute" sister and the rest of her family. Helmert's behavior and threats induced her to push and kick Holly until he broke off his attack. The judge denied Holly's request to confine his jury instruction to the language of § 2241(a). Instead, the judge instructed the jury that they could convict Holly if they found that he used actual force or "implicitly place[d] the victim in fear of some bodily harm," which they could infer from circumstances such as a disparity in power between Holly and his victim. The jury convicted Holly on all five counts, and he appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Murphy, J.)

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