Thursday, July 20, 2006

Government Expert May Testify About What Other Inmates Say About Defendant

US v. Leeson: Leeson appeared at the VA hospital in Pittsburgh and interacted with the admissions nurse. Concerned with Leeson's use of different names and that a bulge in Leeson's jacket might be a gun, the nurse called police. When police arrived, they talked to Leeson, who claimed to be an FBI agent and was therefore armed. The police let Leeson go to his car to retrieve identification.

Rather than return, Leeson sped away and led a high-speed chase down I-79 into West Virginia. Once apprehended (his car broke down), Leeson was observed with a pistol in a holster and was arrested. During the arrest, Leeson told an officer "easy, I could have made this bad for you." Leeson was indicted for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Prior to trial, Leeson moved for a mental evaluation and gave notice of the intent to pursue an insanity defense. Leeson was sent to MCC Chicago and evaluated by Dr. Jason Dana, who concluded that Leeson was not mentally ill at the time of the offense and was malingering.

Leeson went to trial on an insanity defense, during which a defense expert testified that Leeson suffered from several mental disorders that came together to render him insane at the time of the offense. Dana testified in rebuttal. While explaining his conclusion that Leeson was malingering, Dana testified that his opinion was partly based on information from two other inmates who told him that Leeson tried to enlist their aid in looking crazy. Leeson objected to the introduction of that testimony, as well as the Government's use of his post-arrest statement. Leeson was convicted.

At sentencing, he was determined to be an Armed Career Criminal and sentenced to 230 months in prison.

On appeal, Leeson argued that the district court erred by allowing two pieces of evidence to go to the jury.

First, Leeson argued that the district court violated FRE 403 by allowing his statement ("easy, I could have made this bad for you") into evidence due to its prejudicial nature. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument, holding that the statement was relevant to whether Leeson knowingly possessed a firearm, particularly given his insanity defense (although I don't understand the relevance) and that the statement was only "mildly menacing" in nature.

Second, Leeson argued that Dana's testimony about information gleaned from two other MCC Chicago inmates should not have been introduced. The Fourth also rejected that argument, holding that the statements were admissible under FRE 703 (even if the were hearsay) because observations of other inmates are used in determining whether an inmate is mentally ill, that the reliability of those inmates was an issue for jury resolution after cross examination (of Dana, not the inmates) and argument, and that the prejudicial value of the statements were not so great as to warrant exclusion. In a footnote, the court swatted away a Crawford challenge because Leeson's opening brief did not raise the issue, even though Crawford had been decided at that time.

Leeson also challenged his Armed Career Criminal status. Particularly, he argued that two of his three prior qualifying convictions, an armed robbery of a grocery store and an attempted murder of a police officer that occurred in the parking lot of the robbed store, were part of a single criminal episode. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, applying the five-factor test of US v. Letterlough, 63 F.3d 332 (4th Cir. 1995), concluding that all but one of those factors supported the conclusion that the two offenses were distinct "occasions" for ACCA purposes.

No comments: