Thursday, November 10, 2011

Former sheriff's convictions affirmed

US v. Medford: Medford, formerly the Buncombe, North Carolina, County Sheriff appealed his convictions for conspiracy and other charges related to his receipt of bribes in connection with an unlawful video poker machine scheme in that state, involving a South Carolinian video poker machine operator, Henderson Amusement, Inc. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions on all counts.

Medford raised five issues in his appeal: the court committed error in admitting the recording of a meeting between Henderson Amusement reps and people affiliated with a sheriff’s department outside of Buncombe County; the court denied Medford’s motion to sever his trial from a co-defendant’s (Penland); insufficient evidence was presented for a conviction under the Hobbs Act; Medford was subjected to inconsistent and biased treatment from the court; and the Honest Services Statute, 18 U.S.C. sect. 1346 is unconstitutionally vague.

With respect to the admission of the recording, the Fourth Circuit did not decide whether the recording was admissible under Rule 801(d)(2)(E), concluding that any error in the admission of the recording was harmless in light of the "overwhelming evidence" supporting the jury’s verdict. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision not to sever the trials of Medford and Penland, a self-described "captain" in the Buncombe sheriff department, relying on its decision in United States v. Parodi for support. In Parodi, the Fourth Circuit established a four-factor test was issued for the analysis of motions to sever based upon the asserted need for a co-defendant’s testimony. The defendants here failed to satisfy the test because of Penland’s equivocation on his willingness to waive his 5th Amendment rights if the trials were indeed severed.

The Fourth Circuit quickly dispensed with the claim that the district court subjected Medford to inconsistent and biased treatment, reminding that there is a difference between "fair" and "perfect" trials, and concluded that Medford’s treatment was not unfair or biased.

The Fourth Circuit reviewed Medford’s claim that insufficient evidence had been presented to sustain a conviction under the Hobbs Act, under the plain error standard of review, as Medford failed to raise the issue at trial. Here, Medford argued incorrectly that all the parties from whom the conspirators obtained property were part of the conspiracy, which the Fourth Circuit found to be a false premise, and consequently rejected Medford’s claim that the evidence was insufficient.

Finally, the Fourth Circuit found that Medford’s position on the Honest Services statute has been foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Skilling v. United States, in which the "bribery and kickback schemes" provisions of the statute, under which Medford was convicted, were not unconstitutionally vague.