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

The Federal Docket

July 30, 2020

Jury Instructions – A district court cannot instruct a jury that a defendant has motive to testify falsely due to his interest in the outcome of the case, especially if the defendant’s testimony and credibility is a central component of the case.

Juan Solano was convicted of attempted possession of cocaine with intent to distribute after a jury trial in which he testified in his own defense. Solano appealed his conviction, arguing “that the district court erred in instructing the jury that ‘any’ witness who had an interest in the outcome of the trial had a motive to testify falsely.”

The Second Circuit agreed, holding that it was plain error “to instruct the jury that a defendant’s interest in the outcome of the case creates a motive to testify falsely’” because it is “contrary to the presumption of innocence.” The Court further held that the instruction was prejudicial because Solano’s charges “centered squarely on” what Solano knew at the time of the alleged incident and Solano’s credibility.

Appeal from the Eastern District of New York

Opinion by Kearse, joined by Calabresi and Carney

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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