Thursday, December 5, 2013

United States v. Whitmore case brief

United States v. Whitmore case brief summary
359 F.3d 609 (D.C. Cir. 2004)

In the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, defendant was convicted by a jury of unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition by a felon, 18 U.S.C.S. § 922(g)(1), and simple possession of a controlled substance, 21 U.S.C.S. § 844(a). He appealed the firearm conviction on the ground that the district court committed reversible error in preventing him at trial from attacking the credibility of the arresting officer.

Defendant made two challenges: one related to the exclusion of his proposed character witnesses under Fed. R. Evid. 608(a) and the other to the exclusion of his proposed cross-examination of the officer under Fed. R. Evid. 608(b).


  • The district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the reputation evidence regarding the officer from three witnesses, however, the district court erred in prohibiting defendant from cross-examining the officer about certain instances of past conduct under Fed. R. Evid. 608(b). 
  • In doing so, the district court deprived defendant of any realistic opportunity to challenge the credibility of the only witness who testified that defendant possessed the gun in question. 
  • That error was not harmless. 
  • The government did not show that a reasonable jury would have put aside relevant, impeaching evidence about the government's key witness and reached a similar verdict had it heard the excluded cross-examination.

The appellate court reversed defendant's firearm conviction and remanded for a new trial on that charge.

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