The CNMI Supreme Court heard yesterday the appeal of Michael Anthony Jackson, who wants to reverse his conviction and sentence of 40 years and six months in prison for kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl on Saipan.
Chief Justice Alex C. Castro and associate justices John A. Manglona and Perry B. Inos later placed the matter under advisement.
Attorney Mun Su Park argued as court-appointed counsel for Jackson. Assistant attorney general Graef Clayton argued for the government’s opposition.
Jackson is making the appeal on the claim that Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho made several errors during the trial and abused his discretion by imposing the maximum sentence.
Jackson appeals his conviction for kidnapping, sexual assault in the first degree, and assault.
On April 26, 2013, the jury found Jackson guilty of kidnapping and sexual assault in the first degree. Camacho, who decided on the misdemeanor charge, also found Jackson guilty of assault.
Police said the girl was walking along Tun Joaquin Doi Road in Fina Sisu from an Internet café and was on her way home on Oct. 9, 2010, at about 1am when Jackson forced her into his car, brought her to an open field at the Saipan International Airport, and raped her inside his car. He then forced the girl to smoke methamphetamine or “ice.”
The girl later managed to run away, police said.
On May 15, 2013, Camacho slapped the then-34-year-old Jackson with a maximum prison term of 40 years and six months without possibility of parole.
Jackson appealed. He asked the CNMI high court to reverse his convictions and remand the matter for a new trial, or in the alternative for re-sentencing.
In Jackson’s appeal brief, his then-counsel, assistant public defender Michael Sato, argued that Camacho erred by reading the elements of the charges as part of the jury instructions at the beginning of the proceedings, prior to the introduction of any evidence.
Sato said the introduction of the elements instructions should have been reserved for the end of the trial, after the parties had presented their cases.
Sato said the judge erred by allowing the then-17-year-old victim to testify via closed-circuit television, violating Jackson’s right to confront his accuser, as provided by the Sixth Amendment.
Finally, Sato argued that in the absence of a presentence report, or sufficient evidence of mitigating or aggravating factors, the judge imposed the maximum sentence on all counts.
“As a result, Mr. Jackson is entitled to remand for resentencing,” the defense lawyer said.
In the government’s opposition, then-assistant attorney general James B. McAllister contended that Camacho did not commit plain error by reading a typo in the jury instructions because the judge promptly and properly corrected the instructions.
McAllister said the judge did not commit plain error in reading the jury instructions at the beginning of trial because the jurors were better informed and better prepared to proceed with trial.
McAllister said the judge correctly interpreted the statute because the term “child” is easily understood as anyone under the age of 18. He said the judge correctly applied the statute because the victim suffered great emotional trauma testifying in open court.
McAllister said Jackson’s right to confrontation was not violated because the judge used the least invasive means to accommodate the girl and Jackson and his lawyer were still present in the courtroom when she testified.
He added that the judge did not abuse his discretion in denying a presentence investigation report because the defense adequately informed the court of mitigating factors and Jackson has failed to show prejudice.
McAllister said Camacho did not abuse his sentencing discretion because Jackson’s criminal history and the facts of this case justify serious punishment.