Evidence

The Federal Docket

United States v. Alston Williams (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction, sentence, and restitution order of a defendant convicted of sex trafficking minors and adults. Among the defendant’s challenges, the Court held that admitting graphic videos of a victim does not violate Rule 403 if the videos are relevant and jurors are prescreened appropriately, evidence of a defendant’s use of violence against victims establishes their knowledge that the victims were not consenting to the sexual activities, and a victim’s disclaimer of a restitution award does not negate a district court’s obligation to order restitution.

United States v. Lillian Akwuba (11th Cir. August 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a nurse practitioner’s convictions for drug conspiracy and healthcare fraud in a “pill mill” case. The Court held there was sufficient evidence to convict her of the drug offenses despite the government’s failure to provide any patient testimony that the prescription medications they received were unnecessary, and it affirmed her conviction for healthcare fraud based on her knowledge and participation in filing claims to government programs for office visits where patients received illegal prescriptions. The Court held that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the parties had stipulated to disputed fact, but held this did not amount to an improper directed verdict or deprive the defendant of her defense because the instruction did not relate to an element of the charged offense or any of the facts necessary to establish one of those elements, and the defendant was still able to present her theory of defense. The Court also rejected the defendant’s evidentiary claims.

United States v. Laneesha Colston (11th Cir. July 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s drug convictions after she was arrested picking up a package for someone that contained cocaine. The Court held that, notwithstanding the Government’s concession at trial to the contrary, the government only had to prove that the defendant knew the package contained some kind of controlled substance, not the specific type alleged in the indictment. Here, the Court held there was sufficient circumstantial evidence proving the defendant knew there were illegal drugs in the package. The Court also declined to review whether sufficient evidence supported the deliberate ignorance instruction and held the trial court did not err in admitting evidence of the defendant’s unrelated illegal pill sales under Rule 404(b).

United States v. Dontiez Pendergrass (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s convictions for armed robbery of five businesses. Among its holdings, the Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a motion to continue, it did not err in declining to excuse a juror for cause who was a probation officer, admission of geo-location data that was gathered as fruit of an unlawful search was harmless, an agent’s testimony regarding out-of-court statements was not hearsay since it was helpful to describe investigative tactics, and there was sufficient evidence to convict the defendant based on a modus operandi and pattern reflected in each of the five robberies.

United States v. Richard Lee Graham (11th Cir. December 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a defendant’s conviction for corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the Internal Revenue Code by submitting a fraudulent check to the IRS. The Court held that the IRS’s “collection activity” constituted a “particular administrative proceeding” which is a required element of the offense since SCOTUS’s decision in Marinello v. United States. The Court also rejected evidentiary challenges from the defendant based on the district court limiting the testimony of a witness who connected the defendant to others who prepared the false check.

United States v. Lindon Amede (11th Cir. October 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the conviction of a defendant in a drug conspiracy case. The Court held that recorded hearsay statements between an unindicted co-conspirator and an undercover agent were admissible against the defendant where the exsitence of a conspiracy was proved by the co-conspirator discussing drug transactions with the undercover, saying he would send “my guy” to the undercover to conduct business,” and the defendant showing up to conduct transactions as discussed. The Court also held that drug offenses under 841(a)(1) do not require willfullness, that the district court did not err in precluding the defendant from presenting a duress defense, and the district court did not err in allowing the defendant to represent himself at sentencing.

United States v. Mark Hazelwood, Heather Jones, Scott Wombold (6th Cir. October 2020)

The Sixth Circuit reversed defendants’ convictions of mail fraud and wire fraud conspiracy and remanded for new trial, holding that admission of a video showing one of the defendants using racist and misogynist language at an informal business gathering was not admissible to rebut the defendant’s good business judgment. Moreover, the Court concluded that the video’s admission was not harmless error since the defendants’ conduct and speech was irrelevant, improper character evidence, and violated Rule 403. The Court held the “utterly repulsive language” expressing personal views was not relevant to business judgement; admission of the bad acts had no purpose related to the crimes other than propensity; and so “shocked the conscience” of the jury to pose extraordinary risk for them to reach verdicts based on emotions rather than evidence.

United States v. Thaddeus Beaulieu (5th Cir. August 2020)

The Fifth Circuit vacated a defendant’s felony criminal contempt conviction due to prosecutorial misconduct when the AUSA expressed personal opinion on the merits of the case, made arguments based on facts not in evidence during the trial, and told the jury that any verdict other than guilty would disrespect the judge and the court. The Court held that the district court abused its discretion in entering the contempt conviction because the inappropriate remarks were textbook prosecutorial misconduct and denied defendant his due process.

United States v. Michael Heinrich (3rd Cir. June 2020)

The Third Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction and remanded the case to the district court for an explicit ruling and reasonings on whether to exclude the defendant’s proffered expert evidence under Rule 403. The Court recognized its authority to conduct a de novo balancing test but held that remand was more appropriate where there was no record regarding the judge’s reasoning, the judge had not issued a formal ruling (instead having a law clerk inform the parties of the judge’s intent), and a trial judge is better positioned to conduct the Rule 403 balancing test.

United States v. Jason Harriman (8th Cir. August 2020)

The Eighth Circuit upheld a defendant’s conviction of murder-for-hire, denying entrapment as an affirmative defense under the de novo standard of review because the defendant did not produce sufficient evidence of inducement. The Court also affirmed the district court’s denial of motions for new counsel and new trial, holding the proper standard of review is for abuse of discretion.

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