Federal Evidence Blog

Spousal Communications Privilege Inapplicable To Communication On Concealing Criminal Assets

Fifth Circuit highlights exception to privileged communications, in United States v. King, 541 F.3d 1143 (5th Cir. Aug. 26, 2008) (No. 07-30649)

Two separate privileges based on the marital relationship are recognized. First, confidential communications during marriage may be privileged. Second, another privilege may bar a spouse from testifying against the other during the marriage.

The first privilege was recently considered in King, a prosecution for a cocaine distribution conspiracy. Recorded conversations between the defendant and his wife were introduced at trial in support of the charged money laundering conspiracy.

In the conversation, the defendant and his wife discussed the use of a vehicle which the government claimed was purchased with drug proceeds. The defendant claimed the privilege barred the admission of the recorded conversation. The trial court and circuit both agreed that the privilege did not apply based on the “joint participation” crime exception under the privilege. 541 F.3d at 1146. The King case demonstrates that the societal benefits from a privilege protecting marital communications do not apply where the spouses jointly participate in criminal activity. Read more

Barring Trial Testimony On Subject That Witness Claimed Was Privileged Under the Fifth Amendment

Ninth Circuit affirms exclusion of witness's trial testimony on a subject that the witness in a prior deposition claimed was privileged under the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, in Nationwide Life Ins. Co. v. Richards, 541 F.3d 903 (9th Cir. Aug. 28, 2008) (No. 06-56562)

A dispute over the disbursement of a one million dollar insurance policy after a murder underscored how the Fifth Amendment Privilege Against Self-Incrimination cannot be selectively used as a shield. Read more

Calling Witness To Claim Fifth Amendment Privilege Disallowed

Trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defense request to call passenger of car in which drugs were found who was expected to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, in United States v. Branch, 537 F.3d 328 (4th Cir. Aug. 20, 2008) (No. 06-4257)

A recent case underscores the prejudicial concerns from calling a witness merely to assert the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The defendant was driving a sedan with a passenger. The car was stopped for a traffic violation. Eventually, based on some suspicious factors, a canine unit was summoned which signaled the presence of drugs. Officers found cocaine base, a digital scale, baggies, and other items in the car. The defendant was arrested and drug and firearm charges were filed. At trial, the defense asked to call the passenger anticipating that he would assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The defense hoped to signal to the jury that the passenger was responsible for the drugs. The trial court disallowed the witness noting it “would lead to speculation and unfair prejudice.” Branch, 537 F.3d at 334. After his conviction, the defendant appealed the issue.Read more

Admitting A Foreign Judgment Of Conviction

Eleventh Circuit notes the fact of the conviction and sentence were admissible under FRE 803(22) but the underlying facts could not be considered, in United States v. $125,938.62 Proceeds of certificates of deposit number 1271734730, $60,851.73 number 1271736329, et al., 537 F.3d 1287 (11th Cir. Aug. 6, 2008) (No. 07-10380)

A recent case from the Eleventh Circuit considered the admission of a foreign judgment of conviction and the limits to using the judgment.Read more

Alleging FRE 404(b) Other Acts Evidence In Fraud Indictment

In fraud indictment focused on one primary victim, divided panel concludes trial court erred in granting motion to strike surplusage and exclude evidence of other act fraud allegations, in United States v. Siegal, 536 F.3d 306 (4th Cir. Aug. 12, 2008) (No. 07-4551)

At what point may an indictment contain other acts evidence which may be surplusage? That was the question recently posed in an appeal involving a fraud scheme in the Fourth Circuit.Read more

Testimonial Hearsay & Forfeiture By Wrongdoing Under The Federal Rules of Evidence

Circuit declines to consider application of forfeiture by wrongdoing exception under FRE 804(b)(6) In United States v. Wright, 536 F.3d 819 (8th Cir. Aug. 4, 2008) (No. 07-1439), deciding that a deceased witness statement concerning murder participants did not violate the confrontation clause since the statement was not “testimonial.”

On Confrontation Clause questions, the Eighth Circuit emphasized the importance of the threshold inquiry in determining whether the statement of a non-testifying witness is “testimonial” or not. The Confrontation Clause applies to “testimonial” statements. Read more

Reversible Error In Excluding Defense Psychologist Testimony

Defense psychologist expert “could have testified that it was unlikely, given the defendant’s psychology, that he would act on his intent,” in United States v. Gladish, 536 F.3d 646 (7th Cir. July 31, 2008) (No. 07-2718)

FRE 704, concerning expert opinions on ultimate issues, can present some challenges in application. Misapplication can result in reversal. There are two parts to the rule. The first part, under FRE 704(a), clarifies that an expert opinion can “embrace[] an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact.” The second part of the rule contains an exception to the first part, and applies in criminal cases concerning the defendant’s mental state or condition. Under FRE 704(b), an expert is barred from testifying “whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or of a defense thereto.” These issues are reserved for the fact finder.Read more

Taxing Use Of Non-Hearsay Background Testimony

IRS investigative analyst's non-hearsay background testimony (explaining how the defendant tax preparer was identified and referred for investigation) did not violate the Confrontation Clause, FRE 801(c), FRE 404(b), or FRE 403 in United States v. Goosby, 523 F.3d 632 (6th Cir. 2008)

Defendant Goosby, who had a tax preparation business, was prosecuted for preparing fraudulent tax returns. At trial, an IRS investigative analyst provided background on the case, including how the defendant was identified based on “a computer program that allows [the analyst] to review all the returns by a given tax preparer and rank the returns by amount of refund.” In reviewing the returns, the defendant was identified based on “a high ratio for returns prepared by Goosby’s business.” Goosby, 523 F.3d at 635. An investigation commenced and the defendant was charged. After his conviction, the court sentenced him to 46 months in prison.Read more

Tenth Circuit Grants Rehearing On Expert Evidence Issues

Tenth Circuit orders further briefing on expert evidence questions for en banc rehearing of United States v. Nacchio, 533 F.3d 1165 (10th Cir. July 30, 2008) (No. 07-1311).

On March 17, 2008, a divided Tenth Circuit panel vacated the conviction on nineteen counts of insider trading of Joseph Nacchio, former CEO of Qwest Communications International, Inc. The majority concluded that the trial court erred by excluding the defendant’s expert witness who would have testified about whether economic diversification better explained the pattern of defendant’s stock trades than his insider information. See United States v. Nacchio, 519 F.3d 1140 (10th Cir. 2008).Read more

Crime Victims May Be Excepted From FRE 615 Witness Exclusion Rule

Eleventh Circuit notes exception to FRE 615 general witness exclusion rule, in United States v. Edwards, 526 F.3d 747 (11th Cir. 2008)

Most of the time, a party can ask or the court can order that witnesses be excluded during a trial to prevent them from hearing testimony and evidence, under FRE 615 . According to the drafters, FRE 615 promotes the well-established principle that sequestering witnesses “discourage[es] and expos[es] fabrication, inaccuracy, and collusion.” Advisory Committee Notes (1972) (citation omitted). The Eleventh Circuit recently highlighted one of four exceptions under FRE 615. Read more

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