Monday, December 06, 2010

Unrelated Police Misconduct Does Not Require New Trial

US v. Robinson: Robinson was convicted by a jury of several drug and gun charges, including a 924(c) charge, and sentenced to 50 years in prison. After his trial, Robinson learned that four of the officers involved in the investigation against him had committed misconduct in other cases. Robinson moved for a new trial, based on that misconduct. The district court initially granted the motion because the misconduct, although taking place in other cases, went "to the integrity of the investigation." However, after reconsideration, the court limited its decision to the several counts which those officers initiated - those convictions were vacated and the Government subsequently dismissing them. The counts which were initiated by another agency, although the rogue officers were involved in them, however, were affirmed and Robinson was resentenced to 600 months in prison.

On appeal, Robinson argued that the district court erred by not vacating all of his convictions, relying on the district court's initial observation about the integrity of the investigation. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the district court. It held that, on the remaining counts, the testimony of the disgraced officers was "amply corroborated" by other witnesses and physical evidence. The misconduct would have served as impeachment evidence, of little value, but nothing else - it provided no alternate theory of defense, for example. Finally, the court held that Robinson could not show that the new evidence, if presented at trial, probably would have produced an acquittal. The court also rejected a Brady argument with regards to the evidence of misconduct, holding that the Government had no knowledge of the misconduct.

Robinson also appealed his conviction under 18 USC 924(c) due to incorrect jury instructions and insufficient evidence. The Fourth Circuit also rejected those arguments. Applying plain error review on the jury instruction issue, the court held that the instructions on that charge were erroneous and plain, in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Watson, but Robinson could not show prejudice and, even if he could, the court would not notice the error under the final prong of Olano. As to the sufficiency argument, it "like many of the claims before it, runs directly into the wealth of evidence detailing Robinson's activities."

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