Thursday, July 01, 2021

No Prejudice In Failing to Give Statement Evaluation Instruction Where Defendant Didn’t Claim Statement Was Involuntary

US v. HardyHardy was present (along with eight others) in an apartment searched by police. After being given his Miranda warnings, Hardy agreed to talk to police and gave a videotaped statement in which he admitted dealing marijuana and trying to serve as a middleman for a heroin deal. The search of the apartment uncovered a bag with marijuana (which Hardy told them about), as well as heroin and firearms. Hardy made further statements admitting to possession of some of the firearms. He was charged, and ultimately convicted at trial, of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 300 months in prison.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed Hardy's conviction on appeal. Hardy argued for the first time that the district court failed to give a jury instruction, required under 18 USC 3501(a), that the jury should "give such weight to the confession as the jury feels it deserves under all the circumstances." While the parties disagreed as to whether the error was plain, the court decided it ultimately did not have to reach the issue, concluding that even if the error was plain it did not affect Hardy's substantial rights. That was partly due to the fact that even had the instruction been given "there would be little reason for the jury to disbelieve Hardy's confession because Hardy made no meaningful challenge at trial to the confession's voluntariness or veracity." Only in a case where the evidence of guilt was "close" and the Government relied heavily on the confession "would we find that such an omission affected the defendant's substantial rights," but "the evidence" in this case "was not close."

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