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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Deadbeat Mom. Joanne Venturella, divorced from James Ferretti, who was awarded custody of the couple's two children, was ordered to pay child support in the amount of $450 every two weeks. She refused to do so. To prevent her pay from being garnished, she left her job and moved to Florida, where she worked as a tutor at a private school.

But her day of reckoning came. She was indicted, under 19 U.S.C. 228, which provides that a person who owes over $10,000 in child support obligations with respect to children who reside in another state. The primary issue at trial was whether Venturella "resided" in Florida. She claimed that the definition of "residence" should be the same as "domicile," which would require a showing that she intended to permanently live in Florida with no intent of returning to New York. The Government claimed that "residence" should be defined as her principal, actual dwelling place, which, it contended, was Florida.

The District Court adopted the Government's position over Venturella's objection. She was found guilty and was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment, followed by one year of supervised release and a special assessment of $100 and ordered restitution of $59,073.06.

Venturella appealed, and the Second Circuit affirmed. It held that to require an intent to remain as part of the definition of "resides" could lead to absurd results. It also noted that such a definition was at odds with the focus of the statute -- to offer federal criminal penalties against parents who willfully fail to honor their child support obligation and live in another state.

The Second Circuit rejected her position that the legislative history supported the position that residence within the meaning of the statute meant domicile. On the contrary, it held that the legislative history supported the Government's position.

The Court also rejected Venturella's arguments that the District Court's failure to hold the statute unconstitutionally vague and that the District Court's failure to instruct the jury on a dual residence defense were plain error. (Neither issue was raised before the District Court.) Finally, it dismissed the appeal as to her ineffectiveness of counsel claim in that its regular practice was not to hear such arguments on direct appeal.

The decision in United States v. Venturella can be found here.

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