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United States v. Ruska

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

June 10, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Eric Scott Ruska, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Marquette. No. 2:17-cr-00025-1-Robert J. Jonker, Chief District Judge.

         ON BRIEF:

          Elizabeth A. LaCosse, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Marquette, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Maarten Vermaat, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Marquette, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Before: BATCHELDER, McKEAGUE, and NALBANDIAN, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          NALBANDIAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Eric Scott Ruska appeals his sentence of life imprisonment to the extent that the district court imposed it under the federal three strikes statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c). For the following reasons, we affirm.

         I.

         In 2002, Ruska drove a nineteen-year-old woman down a two-track road in rural Michigan. He then stopped the car and revealed he had a handgun. The woman asked him several times to take her home, but Ruska refused. Instead, he raped her three times. Although Ruska was first charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge-assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. As a result, the court sentenced him to one year in jail and two years of probation.

         After his release from jail the following year, Ruska raped another woman. He also forced this woman to sit partially naked on a sofa for about three hours while he threatened to beat her. He then drove her around for several hours and suggested he would kill her before he eventually took her back to her home. For this crime, Ruska pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping. And he was sentenced to between ten and fifteen years in prison.

         Within two years after he was discharged on parole, Ruska attacked another woman. This woman had the misfortune of accepting his invitation to join him on a fishing trip. The two had been fishing on Ruska's boat for a few hours before Ruska "snapped" and said to her: "I'm not out here for the enjoyment of fishing, but this is what I'm about to do and you either go along with it or I have a gun and I'll shoot you with it." [R. 57, Presentence Report at PageID #322 ¶ 30.] He then raped her repeatedly over several days until the police found them both and arrested Ruska.

         For these offenses-committed in the Hiawatha National Forest, which is under federal territorial jurisdiction-the government charged Ruska with one count of kidnapping and three counts of sexual abuse. Ruska pleaded guilty to all the charges and the district court sentenced him to life in prison for each count. The court arrived at that sentence based on three alternative grounds: First, the court ruled that the federal "three strikes" statute, 18 U.S.C. § 3559(c), mandated a life sentence. Second, the court ruled that an upward departure to life from Ruska's Guidelines range was justified based on U.S.S.G. §§ 4A1.3, 5K2.21, and 5K2.8. And third, the court ruled that an upward variance to life was warranted based on the 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors. Ruska now appeals this sentence.

         II.

         Ruska only challenges the first of these rulings: that he qualified for a life sentence under the federal three strikes statute. Because that ruling is a legal conclusion, we review it de novo. See ...


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