In 1996, Defendants Joseph and Evelyn Djoumessi, immigrants from Cameroon living in a Detroit suburb, arranged for then-fourteen-year-old F. to immigrate to the United States from Cameroon under a false name and with a fraudulent passport. The Defendants required F. to perform substantially all of their housework and to provide essentially all of the care for their children. She worked every day from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. for no compensation other than room and board. The Defendants never sent her to school, made her live in the basement, did not provide her with use of the showers at home, and limited F’s contact with outsiders. They also threatened F that she would go to jail if discovered because of her illegal status. When the Defendants were unhappy with her work, they beat F and at least three occasions, Joseph sexually abused F. In February 2000, a neighbour tipped off police about F.’s situation. In 2000-2001, Joseph Djoumessi was tried and convicted in state court of criminal sexual conduct and child abuse. Joseph was sentenced to 9-15 years in prison. In 2005, both defendants were indicted on federal charges. Joseph appealed the federal convictions.
Court: Michigan State Court
Date of decision: 2001
Reference: People v. Djoumessi, No. 238631, 2003 WL 22439688 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2003)
Court: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
Date of Decision: March 2006
Reference: Docket number: 05-80110
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Date of Decision: August 20 2008
Reference: 538 F.3d 547 (2008)
In 2000, Michigan State charged Joseph Djoumessi withkidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, third-degree criminal sexual conduct and third-degree child abuse. The jury convicted him of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and third-degree child abuse and acquitted him of the other charges. He was sentenced to 9–15 years for the sexual-conduct conviction and a concurrent 1-year prison term for the child-abuse conviction.
18 U.S.C.S. § 1584
18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1584
8 U.S.C. § 1324
MCL 750.157a (MCL 750.349)
In 2005, a federal grand jury indicted Joseph Djoumessi for holding F in involuntary servitude, conspiring to hold F in involuntary servitude, and harboring an alien for private financial gain. The bench trial resulted in a verdict of guilty on all three counts, and a sentence of 204 months’ imprisonment (to run concurrently with his state sentence) and $100,000 in restitution to F.
Joseph appealed his federal convictions arguing (1) they violated the Double Jeopardy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and (2) specifically argued the involuntary servitude conviction was not supported by sufficient evidence.
Djoumessi argued that his state prosecution, where he was acquitted of charges similar to involuntary servitude, precluded his federal convictions. Generally, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not bar different sovereigns (here, Michigan State and the U.S. Federal Government) from prosecuting the same individual for similar conduct. However, an exception exists when the second prosecution is really a sham-prosecution, a “different” sovereign in name only. This exception is described in a case called Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121, 122–24 (1959).
The appellate court found that federal charges against him, although similar to the state charges he was acquitted of, did not constitute double-jeopardy. First, the Court noted the Bartkus exception has not been discussed much since and questioned whether it was real. Assuming it was, the Court found that Djoumessi failed to establish the Bartkus sham-prosecution exception applied in his case. For the Bartkus exception to apply, the federal prosecutors had to be “merely a tool” of the State. To the Court, this is a “startling showing” that Djoumessi did not make.
For the second appeal regarding involuntary-servitude, the Court upheld the conviction. The evidence for involuntary-servitude was sufficient for any rational trier of fact to find him guilty of all elements of the crime. To prove sufficiency of the evidence, the evidentiary standard is whether any rational trier of fact, viewing the evidence in a light most favourable to the prosecution, could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Involuntary servitude requires proof that a defendant held the victim in service against her will: (1) by physical restraint or force, (2) by legal coercion or (3) by threats of physical force or legal coercion. The trier of fact may consider “the vulnerabilities of the victim” as well as “evidence of other means of coercion or of extremely poor working conditions” when considering the victim’s perspective. The Court considered special vulnerabilities to be the F’s young age, illegal status, lack of financial support or contact with anyone other than the defendants. These vulnerabilities made F more prone to believing the defendants’ threats of deportation that perhaps adults of normal intelligence may not have. Believing these threats, F stayed under this coercion. Viewing the evidence in a light most favourable to the prosecution, the Court believed a rational trier of fact could have convicted based on the evidence available at the trial-level.
Subsequent federal appeals to vacate the sentence were denied in 2010. US Supreme Court denied certiorari (hearing the case) in 2009.
18 U.S.C. § 1584
18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 1584
8 U.S.C. § 1324
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Appellate Decision citation: 538 F.3d 547 (2008)