Alfonzo Lewis was convicted of drug offenses and challenged his arrest, jury selection, and other aspects of his trial on appeal. Lewis had initially been investigated by a federal drug task force that included state and local agents. After agents witnessed him leaving a house after a drug transaction, local law enforcement conducted a traffic stop to detain Lewis, seize the drugs, and arrest him.
Lewis was initially prosecuted in state court for cocaine trafficking, and won a motion to dismiss after arguing that the traffic stop was pretextual and in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. After the State dismissed the charges, he was indicted in federal court and learned before his trial that the drugs had been destroyed while in the State’s custody.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit considered whether the collateral estoppel doctrine precluded the federal government from relitigating the suppression of evidence obtained from the traffic stop. Recognizing that it was an “open question” whether collateral estoppel could be used in criminal cases previously prosecuted by another government entity, the Eleventh Circuit held that it did not apply in this case because the State and Federal Government, though both had prosecuted or were prosecuting Lewis based on the same conduct, lacked “privity” between them. For example, the Court explained, the state prosecutors here were not acting “as a tool of” nor under the control of federal prosecutors.
Notably, however, the Court declined to impose a bright line rule and explicitly left open “whether issue preclusion may apply in successive criminal prosecutions involving multiple sovereigns” where there is “privity” between the sovereigns.
The Eleventh Circuit next addressed whether the trial court erred in instructing the jury that Lewis had been prosecuted in state court before the case was terminated prior to trial while refusing to inform the jury of the state court’s Fourth Amendment determination based on relevance grounds. Lewis argued that the trial court had violated his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense and effective cross-examination. While conceding that the question of relevance was “not an easy one,” especially given the state court’s reliance on finding the officer not credible, the Court reasoned any error was “harmless” based on the strength of the Government’s evidence from other witnesses.
The Court also considered and rejected Lewis’s arguments regarding jury selection
Appeal from the Northern District of Georgia
Opinion by Hull, joined by Luck and Grant
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