Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Ed Carnes concurs with Ed Carnes

This morning Chief Judge Carnes issued this opinion.  He also concurred with his own majority opinion.

His majority opinion starts this way (with a reference to Downton Abbey: Season 3, Episode 6, see *):
It may be, as the Downton Dowager bemoaned, that “[l]ie is so unmusical a word,”* but it strikes the right note for some of the statements that Dr. Patricia Lynn Hough made in her tax returns. So does 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1), which provides a penalty of imprisonment for a person who willfully files a return “which [she] does not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter.” That is one of the statutes that Hough was convicted of violating. The other is 18 U.S.C. § 371, which prohibits conspiring to defraud an agency of the United States, including the IRS. This is her appeal of those convictions and her sentence.
And below is the opening salvo from his concurrence regarding what a prosecutor can ask character witnesses.  There is a long line of cases in the 11th Circuit holding that a prosecutor cannot assume guilt in asking a character witness whether that would change the witness' opinion of the defendant.  The majority found that violation harmless in this case, but Carnes decided to concur to express his displeasure with this line of cases:
 Not surprisingly, as the author of the Court’s opinion I concur in all of it. I write separately to offer my view about our decisions in Guzman and Candelaria-Gonzalez insofar as they hold that a prosecutor cannot cross-examine the defense’s opinion or reputation character witnesses by asking whether their testimony would change if the defendant had committed the crimes with which she is charged. See United States v. Guzman, 167 F.3d 1350, 1351–52 (11th Cir. 1999); United States v. Candelaria-Gonzalez, 547 F.2d 291, 293–95 (5th Cir. 1977). We are bound to follow prior panel precedent even if we disagree with it, but we are not bound to remain silent about whether it is wrong. And the central holding of Guzman and Candelaria-Gonzalez is wrong.

Candelaria-Gonzalez first announced the erroneous holding in a case involving the cross-examination of defense witnesses who gave testimony about the defendant’s good reputation in the community, 547 F.2d at 293–95, and Guzman extended the holding to cross-examination of witnesses who gave opinion testimony about the defendant’s good character, 167 F.3d at 1351–52. The reason given for the holding was that “[t]hese hypothetical questions [strike] at the very heart of the presumption of innocence which is fundamental to Anglo-Saxon concepts of fair trial.” Candelaria-Gonzalez, 547 F.2d at 294; see Guzman, 167 F.3d at 1352. No they don’t.
Judge Carnes ends his concurrence with a strong defense on cross-examination:
Regardless of how the witness answers the question, it is a proper one on cross-examination because it helps the jury get at the truth. Cross-examination, as Professor Wigmore stated, is “beyond any doubt the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” 5 John Henry Wigmore, Evidence in Trials at Common Law § 1367, at 32 (Chadbourn rev. 1974). That engine for the discovery of truth should be allowed to run at full speed and not be choked to a halt by misunderstandings about conditional questions and answers or by facile references to “Anglo-Saxon concepts of fair trial.” Candelaria-Gonzalez, 547 F.2d at 294. As Thomas Paine observed, “such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.” Thomas Paine, Rights of Man 151 (Everyman’s Library ed. 1958) (1791). We ought to do what we can to give truth the liberty of appearing in a trial.


Anonymous said...

If you run that through the I-10 Boy interpreter, The Chief Judge said is: "Who cares whether a trial is fair as long as we get to hang the s_ _ __ __ _ _ _ _ _ _ !"

Anonymous said...

actually it is the opposite, since ample cross is more a defense strategy than the government's. plus if a defendant calls a character witness the government should always be allowed to challenge that witness through hypo questions so long as it is clear they are hypos based on evidence presented.

Anonymous said...

Why, of course! I am sure J. Carnes stayed up at night thinking, "How can I possibly make this decision more defense-friendly"

Anonymous said...

Hhhmmmm... Having trouble squaring Carnes' concern over the government's latitude in cross-examination with his lack of concern for a defendant's, who, unlike the government, actually has a Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. "(D)istrict courts retain wide latitude to impose reasonable limits on cross-examination based on a variety of concerns including “confusion of the issues” US v. Postica 551 Fed.Appx. 475. Why doesn't he just go ahead and move his office over to the Bureau of Prisons?