Jury Instructions

The Federal Docket

United States v. James Philip Lucero (9th Cir. March 2021)

The Ninth Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction under the Clean Water Act based on the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury that the defendant had to have knowledge that he was discharging pollutants “into water.” The error was not harmless because it was unclear whether the defendant knew that the area in question was inundated with water when he discharged the pollutants. The Court also held that waters being “of the United States” is a jurisdictional element, that “waters of the United States” is not unconstitutionally vague, and that revised regulatory definitions of the phrase are not retroactive unless explicitly made so.

United States v. Arman Abovyan (11th Cir. Feb. 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a doctor-defendant’s conviction for healthcare fraud and dispensing controlled substances unlawfully. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence tying him to the conspiracy based in part on his allowing a medically non-trained co-conspirator to mandate testing requirements, and the Court also found sufficient evidence of unlawful dispensation based on the government expert’s testimony. The Court also held that the district court did not err in using the intended loss amount at sentencing, despite using the lower actual loss amount for the defendant’s co-conspirators, since there was no “unwarranted” disparity given that the co-conspirators had been sentenced according to a plea agreement, and the defendant had not.

United States v. Mayweather, et al. (11th Cir. March 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit reversed the convictions of four defendant-corrections officers who helped a government informant transport narcotics while wearing their corrections uniforms to deter police officers from pulling them over. The Court held that there was sufficient evidence of government inducement to warrant jury instructions on entrapment where the informant made efforts to persuade some of the defendants to do business with him. The Court also held that the district court erred in failing to define “official act” for Hobbs Act extortion and, while it agreed that the definition of “official act” from SCOTUS’s opinion in McDonnell did not fit the facts of the case, the Court remanded for the trial court to provide an alternative definition and allow the jury to determine if the officers wearing their uniforms was an “official act.”

United States v. Lance Cannon & Vincent Holton (11th Cir. February 2021)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed a pair of Hobbs Act robbery convictions, holding that 1) erroneous jury instructions regarding two predicate offenses under 924(c) were harmless where the offenses were inextricably entwined and one was properly instructed as a predicate offense; 2) defendant’s could not show entrapment or outrageous government conduct when the government set up a fake safe house and had an informant suggest to the defendant that they should rob the safe house; and 3) the defendants were not entitled to discovery for selective prosecution based on a showing that a racial group was disproportionately prosecuted unless they could show evidence of prosecution of similarly situated members of another racial group.

United States v. Juan Solano (2nd Cir. July 2020)

The Second Circuit reversed a defendant’s conviction. The defendant testified at trial, and the district court plainly erred in instructing the jury that any witness with an interest in the outcome of the case may have a motive to testify falsely, as it cut against the presumption of innocence and prejudiced the defendant.

United States v. Shusta Gumbs (11th Cir. July 2020)

The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction for using a deadly weapon to forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate, or interfere with a federal officer based on the defendant striking an officer while escaping in a car. The Court held that the district court’s jury instructions defining “forcibly” and “deadly weapon” were proper, the court properly declined to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of simple assault since it would support a conviction for the offense charged, and that the district court properly responded to a jury question regarding cars a deadly weapon simply by rereading its instructions.

United States v. Calvin McReynolds (6th Cir. July 2020)

The Sixth Circuit vacated the defendant’s sentence for drug conspiracy and remanded it to the sentencing court after the court held the defendant accountable for a higher drug quantity than the jury did at trial, which the defendant argued violated his Sixth Amendment claim. The court held that the sentencing court did not adequately explain its reasoning, so it could not review the constitutionality of the defendant’s claim.

United States v. Jeremy Wade (7th Cir. June 2020)

The Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction under 18 USC 912 for impersonating a U.S. employee and acting in conformity with that pretense, rejecting his argument that the offense requires an intent to defraud. The Court held that all that was required was impersonating an officer and an “overt act” which causes a victim to take a course of action they otherwise wouldn’t, which in this case was satisfied because the defendant’s high school crush opened her door to him and let him in based on her belief that he was a DEA agent.

United States v. Bryan Singer (11th Cir. June 2020)

The Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction for unlawfully transporting technology to Cuba without a license, holding that there was sufficient evidence that he knew his conduct was unlawful given repeated warnings he received regarding the export license requirement. The Court also held that the trial court adequately conveyed the substance of the defendant’s proposoed instruction on ignorance of the law while it did not recite it verbatim and that the defendant’s sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice was warranted given his perjured testimony at trial.

United States v. Dustin McLellan (11th Cir. May 2020)

Evidence/Expert Testimony – An officer is not testifying as an expert when he testifies that firearms are often involved in drug activity where such lay opinion testimony is based on his professional experiences. Evidence/Rule 403 – Evidence of drug distribution and possession is relevant in unlawful possession of firearm cases where the element of knowledge …

United States v. Dustin McLellan (11th Cir. May 2020) Read More »

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