Sunday, December 22, 2013

United States v. Sanders case brief

United States v. Sanders case brief summary
964 F.2d 295 (4th Cir. 1992)

CASE SYNOPSIS
In defendant's trial for assault with intent to commit murder and knife or shank possession, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia allowed prosecution to admit evidence of defendant's prior convictions for assault and possession of contraband shank under Fed. R. Evid. 609(a) & 404(b); defendant appealed.

CASE FACTS
Before different trials for assault with intent to commit murder and shank possession, defendant prison inmate filed motions in limine to exclude evidence of prior assault and contraband possession convictions. Defendant testified claiming self-defense, and district court allowed prosecution to cross-examine defendant about prior convictions under Fed. R. Evid. (FRE) 609(a) & 404(b). Separate juries convicted defendant of both charges. Following convictions, defendant appealed.

DISCUSSION

  • With respect to defendant's assault conviction, court found reversible error and held defendant's prior convictions inadmissible under FRE 609(a) & 404(b) because such evidence had little bearing on defendant's propensity to testify truthfully, was extremely prejudicial since it involved exact type of conduct on trial, and exemplified evidence proving only criminal disposition. 
  • Thus, the court could not say with fair assurance that assault judgment was not substantially swayed by erroneous admission of obviously damaging evidence. 
  • The court affirmed defendant's shank possession conviction because such error was harmless.

CONCLUSION
Because district court erred admitting evidence of defendant's prior convictions for assault and possession of a contraband shank and such error was prejudicial as to assault conviction, court reversed assault conviction and remanded for new trial; court affirmed defendant's contraband possession conviction because such error was harmless as to it.

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