Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Belfast: Charles Taylor's son convictions affirmed

In U.S. v. Belfast, No. 09-10461 (July 15, 2010), in an 87-page opinion, the Court affirmed the torture convictions and 1,164-month sentence of the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.

The Court rejected the argument that the torture statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2340A, was unconstitutional because its definition of torture swept more broadly than the Convention Against Torture, which authorized the enactment of the statute. The Court noted that the Judiciary is deferential to other Branches on such issues, and found the differences between the definitions immaterial.

The Court also rejected the argument that § 2340A could not apply extraterritorially to acts in Liberia. The Court pointed out that Belfast was a United States citizen, that Congress has the power to regulate the extraterritorial acts of citizens, and that the statute was intended to apply extraterritorially. The Court also found that 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) could apply extraterritorially, because this is an ancillary statute that relies on a separate substantive crime, here the substantive crime of torture.

Turning to evidentiary issues, the Court rejected the argument that a torture victim’s statements were hearsay, finding them admissible both as prior consistent statements offered to rebut a claim of fabrication, or as excited utterances.

The Court found no error in the admission of unredacted medical records containing statements that the victims suffered “abuse” or “torture,” noting that these were statements of “causation” that did not assign fault for the abuse or torture.

The Court found no error in the admission of rap lyrics found in a notebook in the defendant’s suitcase, noting that they were adequately authenticated, and probative of the defendant’s commission of atrocities.

The Court rejected the argument that the government should have been compelled to produce then-classified Justice Department “Torture Memos.” The Court found these documents “irrelevant” to the defense, since the acts charged in the case were not similar to those described in the Torture Memos.

Turning to the sentence, the Court found that the kidnaping and murder enhancements were supported by the evidence, and that the district court was authorized to consider this evidence.