Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Eleventh is OFF ITS ROCKER

"Dortch presents three arguments:

(1) that the district court erred when it submitted an unredacted indictment that contained references to several of his previous convictions to the jury; (2) that the district court constructively amended the indictment when it instructed the jury that it could convict Dortch of the firearm charges if it found that he possessed any firearm instead of the specific firearms named in the indictment; and (3) that the district court abused its discretion when it refused to admit evidence of a judgment of acquittal on related state charges. All of Dortch’s arguments lack merit."

So says Judge Dredd Pryor.

Sounds like a clear cut case...right?


Let's look at the first two issues.

Issue 1

"At trial, the district court refused to admit into evidence five of the felony convictions because they were either too old or too prejudicial. The district court allowed the government to introduce evidence of the three convictions for possession of cocaine from 1995, 2001, and 2003. Dortch stipulated that he was a convicted felon, and the government presented testimony that Dortch had not had his right to carry a firearm restored."

Nevertheless, an unredacted indictment that included specific descriptions of the 5 felonies went back to the jury room.

"Dortch’s reliance on United States v. Coleman, 552 F.3d 853 (D.C. Cir. 2009), is unavailing. In that decision, the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that a defendant convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm established plain error where the district court read to the jury venire during voir dire an unredacted
indictment that contained the defendant’s previous conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, the defendant had offered to stipulate that he was a convicted felon, and the evidence against the defendant was weak. As the District of Columbia Circuit explained, the dispute in the evidence regarding possession boiled down to the word of the defendant against the word of a police officer who had changed his story several times. In contrast with the weak case against the defendant in Coleman, the evidence against Dortch was strong."

In other words - in Judge Pryor's mind, an argument presenting an issue that constitutes reversable error in the D.C. Circuit "lacks merit" in the Eleventh.  Holy Shit - does nobody point this out to this judge?

Issue 2

"Dortch argues that the district court constructively amended his indictment because the district court failed to instruct the jury that it could convict Dortch of the charges of possession only if it found beyond a reasonable doubt that Dortch possessed the two specific firearms described in counts one and two of the indictment. The indictment charged Dortch with possessing “firearms, that is, a Taurus, Model pT45. .45 caliber pistol and an Arminius revolver,” and at trial the government introduced evidence about four firearms, the two handguns found inthe front bedroom and the two rifles found elsewhere in the residence. But the district court instructed the jury that it could convict Dortch if it found that he possessed “a firearm.” Dortch argues that a constructive amendment amounts to a per se reversible error."


"We need not address whether a constructive amendment amounts to a per se reversible error when the defendant fails to object at trial because, even if we assume that the district court erred, the error was not plain. Under the plain-error standard, we will not correct an error raised for the first time on appeal unless
there is an error, that is plain, that affects substantial rights, and seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings. United States v. Langford, 647 F.3d 1309, 1325 n.11 (11th Cir. 2011). “For a plain error to have occurred, the error must be one that is obvious and is clear under current law.” United States v. Carruth, 528 F.3d 845, 846 n.1 (11th Cir. 2008). An error is not obvious and clear when “[n]o Supreme Court decision squarely supports” the defendant’s argument, “other circuits . . . are split” regarding the resolution of the defendant’s argument, (3) “we have never resolved the issue.” See United States v. Humphrey, 164 F.3d 585, 588 (11th Cir. 1999)."


"No Supreme Court precedent or precedent of this Court squarely supports Dortch’s argument. Dortch fails to cite any controlling authority that a district court constructively amends an indictment that alleges possession of particular firearms by instructing the jury that it may convict for possession of any firearm.
And our sister circuits are split regarding whether a district court constructively amends an indictment in this circumstance."


"In the absence of any controlling precedent about this issue, “we conclude that the district court’s alleged error is not ‘obvious’ or ‘clear under current law.’” Humphrey, 164 F.3d at 588. “Without a ‘plain’ error, we lack authority to reverse the district court.” Id. (citing United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 734, 113 S.
Ct. 1770, 1777 (1993). Dortch’s argument fails."


Say you don't win, not plain error, can't reverse - but Meritless?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This blog sucks!