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United States v. Beaty - 722 F.2d 1090 (3d Cir. 1983)

Rule:

A trial judge's isolated questioning to clarify ambiguities is one thing; however, a trial judge cannot assume the mantle of an advocate and take over the cross-examination for the government to merely emphasize the government's proof or question the credibility of the defendant and his witnesses.

Facts:

Defendants were involved in a drug smuggling operation using two boats. On the night in question, the boat that carried the drugs sank. Two attempts to salvage the lost hashish were unsuccessful. Defendants were charged with various drug-related offenses, including conspiracy and attempt to distribute hashish on the high seas. During the trial, the trial judge essentially cross-examined one defendant's counsel in the jury's presence concerning counsel's basis for a question and essentially cross-examined the other defendant's witnesses. The jury found defendants guilty as to all counts. 

Issue:

 Whether the trial judge's cross-examination of the one defendant's witnesses was prejudicial.

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed and remanded as to one defendant, but otherwise affirmed, holding that a trial judge was authorized to question a witness to clarify ambiguities. However, the trial judge's cross-examination of the one defendant's witnesses was prejudicial because the questioning implied untrustworthiness.

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