Federal Judge May Approve International Child Kidnapping

May 28, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Continued from yesterday.

So the Brazilian courts and the U.S. State Department have, simultaneously if not in concert, managed to violate, in the case of Brazil the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and, in the case of the U.S., the Sean and David Goldman Act. In doing so, they’ve deprived a little boy of his father and the father of his son. Kidnapping of children, if it’s allowed to continue for long, is child abuse, but the two countries wink at that when it comes to Nico Brann, who’s now eight.

That of course is bad enough, but the case just may get worse. Indeed, a federal judge in Houston, Alfred H. Bennett, may get in on the act.

As I said yesterday, Nico’s Brazilian grandparents Carlos and Jemima Guimaraes, we arrested in Florida and brought to trial in Houston on the criminal charges of conspiracy and aiding the kidnapping. A Houston jury returned a verdict of guilty on the aiding charge and not-guilty of conspiracy. In other words, the jurors found that the two had assisted their daughter’s abduction once it was done, but not that they’d planned it with her.

So at least there’s some justice, right? Carlos and Jemima face up to three years in prison for their part in their daughter’s ongoing crime.

Or do they?

A federal jury Friday found an affluent Brazilian couple guilty of aiding in the international kidnapping of their Houston-born grandson in a rare prosecution that drew national attention to the U.S. government’s lackluster efforts to return thousands of children taken abroad amid custody disputes.

But, in unusual move, U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett did not formally accept the jury’s decision, saying he wanted more time to consider defense attorneys’ request that the couple should be cleared because of allegations raised in the trial that their daughter was fleeing domestic violence.

That’s right, what little justice Nico and his father Christopher Brann can get from the criminal convictions may be taken away by a federal judge who likely doesn’t know the first thing about domestic violence. Judge Bennet wants to “think about” the case.

Well, here are some facts for him to consider:

First, Christopher Brann committed no act of DV against Carlos or Jemima.

Second, Christopher Brann had joint custody of his son when his ex-wife Marcelle abducted the child to Brazil. That means one of two things. Marcelle either didn’t raise the issue of DV before the family court or, if she did, the judge found that it either didn’t happen or was not of such a nature as to deprive the child of contact with his father.

Third, “Just days after her arrival and without Brann’s knowledge, she appeared before a civil judge in Brazil with documents showing she had a home and a job at her mother’s school in the beachside town of Salvador, Bahia, and that Nico was enrolled at the school.” In other words, she didn’t mention domestic violence to that judge.

Plus, “In the Brann case, the governments of the U.S. and Brazil both concluded Nico was illegally abducted in violation of civil law.” That strongly suggests that there has been no finding of domestic violence on the part of Christopher Brann sufficient to deny him custody or the “protection” of the Hague Convention.

Now, Brann admits to having behaved badly in the past.

Brann said under cross-examination that he had written an email at his wife’s direction saying he was sorry and acknowledging that he had pulled her hair, pushed her to the floor, hit her in the face and arms and kicked holes in the wall. He said she was violent toward him, and that he defended himself.

In short, he and his ex were mutually abusive to each other, but not to the extent that the family court judge believed either shouldn’t have joint custody of their son.

Brann testified that the relationship between him and his then-wife had become violent. Marcelle raised the issue of domestic violence in her divorce petition in Harris County.

Finally, since DV is a defense to the crimes with which Carlos and Jemima were charged and their lawyer raised the issue and adduced evidence in the trial in federal court, it’s clear that the jury considered the evidence and rejected it.

So apparently every fact-finder who’s heard the evidence has found it to be insufficient to decrease Brann’s contact with his son. The Texas family judge did, at least one court in Brazil did and now a criminal court jury has done so.

None of that is enough for Judge Bennett who may simply substitute his own opinion on the matter and, in so doing, deprive Christopher Brann of the smidgen of justice this five-year-old case has afforded him.

And of course, if he rejects the jury’s verdict and finds Carlos and Jemima not guilty, Bennett will send the unmistakable signal that, on the flimsiest of pretexts, child kidnapping is really OK after all. There need be no finding of abuse, only an allegation. A little mutual and apparently non-injurious DV must stop the wheels of justice in their tracks; denying a child a relationship with his father meanwhile gets a pass from everyone.

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