Evidence

The Federal Docket

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.

United States v. Steven Deason (11th Cir. July 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit upheld a conviction for attempted online enticement of a minor and attempted transfer of obscene matter to a minor, holding that officers did not err in failing to advise the defendant of his Miranda rights where he was informed that he was not under arrest and could ask the officers to leave and because he his statements were voluntary. The Court also held that testimony describing an allegedly obscene video and corresponding screenshots are a sufficient substitute to introducing the videos in their entirety.

United States v. Stephen Chalker (11th Cir. July 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for healthcare fraud, holding that there was sufficient evidence based on testimony regarding “red flags” at the defendant’s pharmacy, including patients from out of state, unrealistically high prices, and discrepancies in billing and inventory. The Court also rejected the defendant’s challenges to lay witness testimony from patients stating they received medication that they did not need and held that the Government replacing its expert did not prejudice the defendant where the substance of the testimony stayed the same.

United States v. David Pon (11th Cir. June 2020)

Evidence/Expert Testimony – Expert testimony discussing a theory that lacks sufficient testing, known or potential error rates, control standards, acceptance among the science community, and a connection between the theory and the underlying research is sufficiently unreliable to be excluded. Further, a peer-reviewed paper mentioning the theory is insufficient alone to prove reliability. Evidence/Rebuttal – …

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