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United States v. Yates

United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

February 13, 2006, Decided ; February 13, 2006, Filed

No. 02-13654

Opinion

 [*1309]  COX, Circuit Judge:

The court took this case en banc to consider whether witness testimony presented on a television monitor at a criminal trial in Montgomery, Alabama, by live, two-way video conference with witnesses in Australia, violated the Defendants' Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against them. Holding that it did, we vacate the convictions and remand for a new trial.

I. BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Anton Pusztai and Anita Yates ("Defendants") were tried in the Middle District of Alabama for mail fraud, conspiracy to defraud [*1310]  the United States, conspiracy [**2]  to commit money laundering, and various prescription-drug-related offenses arising out of their involvement in the Norfolk Men's Clinic, an Internet pharmacy based in Clanton, Alabama.

At the pre-trial motion stage, the Government moved for an order allowing the introduction of testimony from two witnesses in Australia by means of live, two-way video conference. (R.2-248.) In support of its motion, the Government stated that Mr. Paul Fletcher Christian (who allegedly processed customer Internet payments for the Defendants) and Dr. Tibor Konkoly (whose name the Defendants allegedly used on Internet drug prescriptions) were both "essential witnesses to the government's case-in-chief." (Id. at 1.) The Government further submitted: "although both witnesses are willing to testify at trial via video teleconference, they are unwilling to travel to the United States. Because they are beyond the government's subpoena powers, the government seeks permission for these witnesses to testify through the use of teleconference facilities." (Id. at 2.) Defendants opposed the motion, arguing that admission of such testimony would violate their Sixth Amendment rights to confrontation because [**3]  it would deny them face-to-face encounters with the witnesses against them. (R.2-261; R.3-314 at 3.) 2 

The district court granted the Government's motion, finding that Defendants' confrontation rights would not be violated because the two-way video conference would allow Defendants to see the witnesses and the witnesses to see Defendants during the testimony. (R.3-314.) The court found that the Australian witnesses were unwilling to travel to the United States for trial, (id. at 2.); the Defendants did not contest this finding. The court [**4]  also found that the Government asserted an "important public policy of providing the fact-finder with crucial evidence," (Id. at 19.), and that "the Government also has an interest in expeditiously and justly resolving the case." (Id. at 22.)

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438 F.3d 1307 *; 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 3433 **; 19 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 279

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, versus ANITA YATES, ANTON F. PUSZTAI, Defendants-Appellants.

Subsequent History: Motion denied by United States v. Yates, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26916 (M.D. Ala., May 4, 2006)

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. D. C. Docket No. 00-00109 CR-N-2.

United States v. Yates, 404 F.3d 1291, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 5065 (11th Cir. Ala., 2005)

CORE TERMS

deposition, witnesses, confrontation, two-way, face-to-face, video, cross-examination, public policy, right to confront, district court, unavailable, videoconference, reliability, witness testimony, transmission, fact-finder, physical presence, Defendants', courtroom, one-way, convictions, television, unavailable witness, trial court, testifying, cases, defendant's right, child witness, case-specific, demeanor

Criminal Law & Procedure, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, General Overview, Trials, Motions for Acquittal, Sufficiency of Evidence, Defendant's Rights, Right to Confrontation, Witnesses, Presentation, Preliminary Proceedings, Depositions, Substantial Evidence, Evidence, Types of Evidence, Testimony, Appeals