US v. Larsen rejects challenge to Interstate Domestic Violence Act

U.S. v. LARSEN

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
DAVID M. LARSEN, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 08-3088.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Argued: May 5, 2009.
Decided: August 4, 2010.

Before RIPPLE and SYKES, Circuit Judges, and LAWRENCE, District Judge.[ 1 ]

SYKES, Circuit Judge.

David Larsen brutally beat Teri Jendusa-Nicolai, his ex-wife, at his home in Wisconsin. He then bound her with duct tape, stuffed her in a garbage can filled with snow, put the can in the back of his truck, and drove to a self-storage facility in Illinois. He left her there—still bound and in the snow-filled garbage can—in an unheated rented storage locker. She was discovered the next day, about an hour from death.

Larsen was charged with state and federal crimes; the state charges were resolved first. See State of Wisconsin v. Larsen, 2007 WI App 147, 302 Wis. 2d 718, 736 N.W.2d 211. Thereafter in federal court, Larsen waived his right to a jury and after a trial to the court was convicted of two counts: kidnapping in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(1), and interstate domestic violence in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2261(a)(2) and (b)(2) (the Interstate Domestic Violence Act). The district judge sentenced him to life in prison, which exceeded the recommended sentencing-guidelines range.

Larsen challenges both his convictions and his sentence. His first claim on appeal is a Commerce Clause challenge to the Interstate Domestic Violence Act; he contends that the Act unconstitutionally federalizes purely local violent crime with an insufficient nexus to interstate commerce. He next argues that his convictions for kidnapping and interstate domestic violence are multiplicitous in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause. He also maintains that a warrantless search of his home on the afternoon of the victim’s disappearance was unjustified under the emergency doctrine and therefore unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Finally, he challenges his life sentence to the extent that the judge’s decision to impose it was based on Jendusa-Nicolai’s having suffered a miscarriage three days after the attack.

We reject these arguments and affirm. The Interstate Domestic Violence Act punishes those who use “force, coercion, duress, or fraud” to cause a domestic partner to travel in interstate commerce and who commit a violent crime against the victim “in the course of, as a result of, or to facilitate” that interstate travel. 18 U.S.C. § 2261(a)(2). This statute lies well within the scope of Congress’s power to regulate the channels or instrumentalities of, or persons in, interstate commerce. We further conclude that Larsen’s convictions are not multiplicitous; the crimes of kidnapping and interstate domestic violence contain different elements, and each requires proof of a fact that the other does not. The district court’s admission of physical evidence obtained during the warrantless search of Larsen’s home was ultimately harmless, even if it was error; the evidence of Larsen’s guilt was overwhelming and uncontroverted. Finally, Larsen’s life sentence was not unreasonable, either on its own terms or because the judge’s decision to impose it was based primarily on Jendusa-Nicolai’s miscarriage.

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