Edward Canty, III and Melquan Jordan were indicted, along with 4 others, for conspiring to distribute heroin and cocaine. The other 4 conspirators pled guilty, while Canty and Jordan proceeded to trial, where they were tried jointly and convicted. On appeal, the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of their motions for acquittal on sufficiency grounds. However, the First Circuit found error in the district court’s denial of their motions for new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.
At trial, the Government made several inappropriate statements during opening, , closing, and rebuttal arguments to which neither defense counsel objected. Specifically, the prosecutor had: 1) made improper appeals to the jury’s emotions as the “conscience of the community” regarding the impact of drugs and addiction on the community; 2) made improper “guilt by association” comments suggesting it was the defendants’ “turn” to be convicted since their co-conspirators had already pleaded guilty and been sent to prison; 3) improperly “vouched” for the credibility of the prosecutor and investigating agents; and 4) improperly argued without a basis in the evidence as to one of the defendants.
On appeal, the First Circuit held that the district court erred when it concluded that Canty and Jordan failed to satisfy the fourth prong of plain error review—whether the error seriously impaired the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceeding—due to the strength of the Government’s evidence against them. Since strength of the evidence is embedded in a court’s consideration of prejudice under the third prong of plain error review, the district court’s conclusion that there was prejudicial error, but it could be overcome by strength of evidence, was contradictory. The First Circuit then found that the fourth prong was satisfied in this case and granted both Canty and Jordan a new trial.
Appeal from the District of Maine
Opinion by Lynch, joined by Selya and Kayatta
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