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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Joe - 8 F.3d 1488 (10th Cir. 1993)


A domestic sexual abuser's identity is admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 803(4) where the abuser has such an intimate relationship with the victim that the abuser's identity becomes reasonably pertinent to the victim's proper treatment.


Melvin Joe and Julia Joe were married in 1980. In 1991, Julia filed a petition for divorce and the couple separated. On February 1992, after getting drunk, Melvin drove to his wife’s residence, and entered the home brandishing an unloaded .22 caliber rifle. Melvin and Julia fought, and Melvin became physically abusive. Eventually, with the help of a neighbour, Julia was able to get Melvin to leave the house. Fearful that Melivn would return, Julia, the neighbor, and one of the Joe children decided to leave the house and go to the neighbor’s home. As they exited, they noticed that Melvin had returned to his SUV and was circling Julia's house. They stood next to the house for protection. When Julia and the neighbor tried to run, Melvin hit them with the truck he was driving. Both Julia and the neighbor died of multiple internal and external injuries caused by blunt force. Subsequently, Melvin turned himself in. He was indicted for two counts of first degree murder. At trial, defense counsel conceded that Melvin Joe had killed the two women. Melvin’s defense was that at the time of the killings, he was intoxicated and enraged over the pending divorce, thus, negating the requisite specific intent to sustain a conviction for first degree murder. With respect to Melvin’s intent, the government presented two types of evidence: the circumstances surrounding the murders and the testimony of Dr. Brett Smoker regarding statements made to him by Julia. Dr. Smoker, an Indian Health Service family physician, testified that, eight days before Julia was killed, he treated her for an alleged rape and that she had identified her assailant as the defendant, Melvin. Dr. Smoker further testified that Julia stated she was "afraid sometimes" because Melvin threatened to kill her if he caught her with another man. The trial court admitted Dr. Smoker's testimony over defense counsel's timely objection, ruling on the evidence in two stages. The court first ruled that the threat and rape statements were admissible under the hearsay exception contained in Fed. R. Evid. 803(3). The court determined that the threat and rape statements were not precluded under Rule 404(b), as they were being offered to show Melvin Joe's "specific intent." The court also ruled that the relevance of the threat and rape statements was not outweighed by their prejudicial effect under Fed. R. Evid. 403. The jury convicted Melvin of first degree murder for killing his wife and second degree murder for killing the neighbor. Defendant appealed, asserting that Dr. Smoker's testimony that Melvin had previously raped and threatened Julia was inadmissible hearsay evidence.


Was Dr. Smoker’s testimony that defendant had previously raped and threatened the victim admissible as evidence to prove defendant’s guilt in the murder of his wife?




The Court held that an identification of defendant as a domestic sexual abuser was admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 803(4) as a statement made to a physician for medical diagnosis or treatment. Defendant had an intimate relationship with the victim, and his identify became reasonably pertinent to the victim's proper treatment. Therefore, the statement made by the murder victim to the physician, identifying defendant as the assailant, was admissible.

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