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