Monday, December 1, 2014

Seventh Circuit Reverses Conviction After Defendant Prevented From Presenting Defense Through Cross-Examination

In November, the Seventh Circuit vacated a conviction after the district court prevented the defendant from cross examining a government witness to establish facts necessary for his defense at trial.  The district court ruled that the defendant would have to testify to present the defense.  The Court of Appeals reversed.  The case involved the charge of making a false statement in connection with the purchase of a firearm.  (18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6)).  Several key facts were not in dispute.  The defendant purchased a firearm while he was still technically facing a felony charge, but checked the box on the ATF form indicating that he was not currently under a felony information or indictment.  On the part of the form that requested his home address, he listed an old home address at which he currently maintained an office, but did not live.  His defense was that while he knew that he had been charged with a felony, he did not believe that it was still pending since he had a plea deal under which the state would dismiss the felony in exchange for his plea to a misdemeanor count.  With respect to the false address, the defendant argued on appeal that the district court had erred when it instructed the jury that “A false street address is material to the lawfulness of the sale of a firearm.”  He argued that the false address was not material because it was the address on his driver’s license, was where he got his mail, and was only a two blocks from his home in a small town in which everyone knew him.  When defense counsel tried to cross examine the state prosecutor to confirm the plea deal, the government objected, arguing that the defendant would have to testify himself to raise this defense.  The district court sustained the government’s objection.  The Circuit found the ruling to be reversible error:

The county prosecutor’s testimony presents a possible defense and thus is clearly relevant. [The defendant] does not have to testify and should not be foreclosed from cross-examining the county prosecutor simply because he could personally say what he knew. Knowledge, or its absence, may be proved by all the facts and circumstances of the case. See United States v. Craig, 178 F.3d 891, 895 (7th Cir.1999). Where cross-examination of a witness produces facts necessary to establishing a defense, the defendant may choose to rely on that testimony without having to testify himself.

The Court remanded for a new trial, but did not formally resolve the issue concerning the materiality of the residential address, noting that it had never ruled that providing a false address was material as a matter if law.  United States v. Bowling, 2014 WL 5786841(7th Cir. Nov. 7, 2014).

No comments:

Post a Comment