Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Plea Agreement Bars Subsequent Prosecutions

US v. Jordan: Jordan and co-defendant Gordon were convicted by a jury of conspiring to commit multiple drug, firearm, and murder offenses arising from the killing of a drug courier (the defendants "forcibly abducted [the victim], took him to another location, and set him on fire."). The conspiracies allegedly took place between 2002 and 2004. Prior to trial, Gordon, moved to dismiss the indictment against him because it was barred under a plea agreement he entered into with the Government in 2002. The district court denied that motion. It also overruled both defendants' objections to the use of hearsay testimony from a deceased co-conspirator during trial.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed as to Gordon but affirmed Jordan's convictions.

As to Gordon, the court concluded, 2-1, that the 2002 plea agreement barred his prosecution. The agreement was ambiguous as to whether its non-prosecution provision applied only to crimes committed by Gordon at that time or any conduct in which he was engaged. Construing the ambiguity against the Government, the court held that it applied to all conduct, which included the charged conspiracies in the instant case. Therefore, Gordon's convictions were vacated. District Judge Wilson, sitting by designation, would have remanded for further proceedings to determine if extrinsic evidence would show a "mutually agreed upon meaning" to the ambiguous language.

As to Jordan, the statements at issue were made by a co-conspirator who was involved in the murder setup to a friend with whom she lived for a while afterwards. The court held that the statements were not barred under Crawford because they were not testimonial because the co-conspirator would not have reasonably believed her friend would eventually testify about those statements in court. In addition, the court concluded that the statements were admissible as statements against penal interest because they related to the co-conspirator's role in the crime.

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