United States v. Thaddeus Beaulieu (5th Cir. August 2020)

The Federal Docket

Prosecutorial Misconduct – To assess whether prosecutorial misconduct results in a due process violation, the court considers the magnitude of prejudicial effect, the efficacy of cautionary instructions, and the strength of evidence of defendant’s guilt.

Contempt – A district court will consider whether the defendant received a specific court order, if he violated the order, and if he did so willingly.

Thaddeus Beaulieu was convicted of contempt by refusing to testify after being granted immunity from prosecution under 18 U.S.C. §§ 6002-6003.  The letter of immunity contained certain exceptions and the AUSA stated Beaulieu would be ”prosecuted to the full extent of the law if his trial testimony differed in any way” from a prior FBI interview.  Beaulieu invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to testify since inability to correct factual errors in the 302 memorandum could result in perjury.

At the contempt trial, the same AUSA was appointed to prosecute Beaulieu for contempt. The AUSA cross-examined Beaulieu’s former defense counsel, though he asserted several facts through the cross-examination regarding his own state of mind and understanding of the immunity agreement. In closing arguments, the AUSA made several additional factual assertions that were never elicited from Beaulieu’s attorney or any other witness. The AUSA also told the jury that any verdict other than guilty “would disrespect the judge and the court.”

The Court reviewed Beaulieu’s appeal challenging the district court’s contempt conviction.  The government conceded inappropriate remarks were made, and the Court held Beaulieu was prejudiced based on the strength of evidence against a willful violation of court order.  The government conceded the magnitude of prejudicial effect and the district judge issued no cautionary instructions.  The Court held that Beaulieu did not willingly violate the order and his refusal to testify was a “good faith effort to avoid perjury.”  The Court vacated the felony criminal contempt conviction. 

Appeal from the Eastern District of Louisiana

Opinion by Oldham, joined by Wiener and Engelhardt

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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