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United States v. Awadallah - 349 F.3d 42 (2d Cir. 2003)


18 U.S.C.S. § 3144 applies to witnesses whose testimony is material in "a criminal proceeding." "Criminal proceeding" is a broad and capacious term, and there is good reason to conclude that it includes a grand jury proceeding. It has long been recognized that the word "proceeding" is not a technical one, and is aptly used by courts to designate an inquiry before a grand jury.


Defendant Osama Awadallah was investigated following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks after his name and home telephone number were found in one of the airplane hijacker's vehicles. He was arrested as a federal material witness pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 3144. Defendant was not released on bail because the judge found that his continued detention was reasonable under the circumstances. Twenty days after his arrest as a material witness, defendant testified before the grand jury in the Southern District of New York. During his testimony, he denied knowing two of the hijackers. The government then showed him an examination booklet he had written in September, which the government had obtained from his English teacher in San Diego. The booklet contained one of the names of the hijackers. Defendant acknowledged that it was his examination booklet, and that most of the writing in it was his own, but he denied that the hijacker’s name and a few other words on the page were written in his handwriting. He later admitted that it was his handwriting and was indicted for perjury. The district court dismissed the indictment, holding that § 3144 did not apply to grand jury witnesses and therefore defendant's perjury was the result of an illegal detention.


Did the federal material witness statute, 18 U.S.C.S. § 3144, allow the arrest and detention of grand jury witnesses?




The Circuit Court concluded that the district court's rulings must be reversed and the indictment reinstated. The Court also reversed the district court's independent ruling that the FBI's unreasonable searches and seizures on September 20 and 21, 2001, before Awadallah was arrested as a material witness, required suppression at trial of certain statements and physical evidence.

The Court determined that § 3144 allowed the arrest and detention of grand jury witnesses because a grand jury proceeding was a "criminal proceeding" under § 3144. The legislative history of § 3144 made clear Congress's intent to include grand jury proceedings within the definition of "criminal proceeding." Its language was nearly identical to the text of its predecessor statute, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1349, which has been construed to encompass grand juries. In the case at bar, the defendant's 20-day detention was not unreasonably prolonged because he received two bail hearings under 18 U.S.C.S. § 3142 within days of his arrest and that judges in both found his continued detention to be reasonable and necessary. The Court also held that the information and evidence obtained by the FBI on September 20 and 21, which was 20 days before Awadallah appeared before the grand jury, was not excludable as fruit of the improper searches and seizures.

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