Juries

The Federal Docket

United States v. Alfred Velazquez (9th Cir. July 2021)

The Ninth Circuit vacated a defendant’s conviction for importing drugs based on the prosecutor’s statements in closing regarding the standard of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court held that the prosecutor’s comparison of the standard to the confidence a person might need to have in eating a meal without fear of sickness or traveling to court without worrying about a car accident mischaracterized and “trivialized” the standard and caused substantial prejudice.

Edwards v. Vannoy (U.S. Supreme Court. May 2021)

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that the unanimous verdict rule announced in Ramos v. Louisiana was not retroactive for inmates convicted on split verdicts. The Court also effectively overruled the “watershed exception” from Teague v. Lane that held that a new rule of criminal procedure can be applied retroactively if it is a “watershed” rule pertaining to “basic due process.”

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.

Ramos v. Louisiana (U.S. Supreme Court, April 2020)

In a patchwork opinion involving a lengthy discussion of stare decisis, a majority of the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a unanimous verdict in a criminal prosecution applies to the states through the Fourteenth amendment.

United States v. Bernard Moore, et al. (11th Cir. March 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit rejected a number of challenges in affirming the defendants’ sentences for drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms, holding that the district court did not plainly err in shackling the defendants during trial without stating its reasons in the record and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in interviewing jurors in camera regarding their safety concerns and summarizing those interviews for the parties. The Court also concluded that the indictments failure to allege the defendants’ mens rea as required under Rehaif v. United States did not deprive the court of jurisdiction and the plain error of convicting the defendants of unlawful possession of firearm did not warrant reversal where the government would have been able to prove their knowledge.

United States v. Cesar Antonio Becerra (9th Cir. September 2019)

The Court reversed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the district court’s failure to orally instruct the jury on the elements of the charged offenses was a structural and plain error even where the district court orally confirmed with each juror that they had read the instructions.

Flowers v. Mississippi (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2019)

Curtis Flowers was tried six separate times for the same murder by the same prosecutor. Several of his convictions were vacated by the Mississippi Supreme Court based on findings that the State engaged in prosecutorial misconduct and used it peremptory strikes on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. After his sixth trial, in which the State struck five black jurors and allowed one black juror to be seated, Flowers was convicted.

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