Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Court Rejects Numerous Challenges to Pipe Bomb Convictions

US v. Uzenski: Uzenski was convicted by a jury of two counts of manufacturing an unregistered firearm and two counts of possessing an unregistered firearm. The "firearms" at issue were pipe bombs. Uzenski was a local police officer in North Carolina. On March 25, 2002, Uzenski reported to a fellow officer that he was in need of urgent assistance on a local highway. When the officer arrived, he saw Uzenski straddling over what appeared to be a pipe bomb. Indeed, it was a pipe bomb and was subsequently defused by the state bomb squad. The next day, after Uzenski and other officers returned to the site, a second pipe bomb was found and eventually defused. Investigation led to a videotape of Uzenski at a local hardware store purchasing several of the items that made up the bombs. Authorities also obtained a warrant to search Uzenski's home and uncovered various items that could be linked to the building of pipe bombs.

Uzenski appealed his conviction on several grounds, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected.

  • First, he argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the objects in question were "destructive devices" because they lacked the functional parts which made them capable of exploding. The court rejected that argument, holding that the testimony of the Government's expert witness, who testified about how the bombs could have exploded while they were taken apart due to sparks that would be generated, was sufficient to meet the Government's burden on that element.
  • Second, Uzenski argued that statements he made to investigators prior to being given Miranda warnings should have been suppressed. The court agreed with the district court that Uzenski was not in custody at the time of those statements, and therefore was not entitled to Miranda warnings.
  • Third, Uzenski argued that the evidence seized from his home should have been suppressed because the officers executing the search warrant seized items that were beyond the scope of the warrant. The court held that blanket suppression of everything recovered from the home was inappropriate.
  • Fourth, Uzenski argued that the district court should have excluded the testimony of the Government's expert witness as to the pipe bombs because the Government never provided him with the expert's notes. The court held that Uzenski's counsel failed to properly request the notes and therefore the testimony should not have been excluded.
  • Finally, Uzenski argued that the district court erred by allowing the Government to elicit testimony about his prior statements regarding pipe bombs and a prior bad act of making a false report.

Uzenski's sentence was vacated and remanded under Booker / Hughes.

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