Law School Case Brief
United States v. Dillon - 870 F.2d 1125 (6th Cir. 1989)
Flight evidence comes in as an admission of guilt by conduct. Where evidence of flight has genuine probative value, it is generally admissible as evidence of guilt, and juries are given the power to determine how much weight should be given to such evidence. The task for a district court in determining whether to admit evidence of flight, thus, is to determine whether the proffered evidence in fact tends to prove guilt and not merely the terror that may befall an innocent person confronted by the criminal justice system, and whether the evidence, even if probative of guilt, is so prejudicial that its admission offends Fed. R. Evid. 403. The task for a court of appeals is to review those determinations for an abuse of discretion.
Defendant Thomas J. Dillon was indicted for, and convicted of distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it, and use of telephone to facilitate the crimes of conspiracy and distribution. At trial in federal district court, the government attempted to prove that Dillon had fled Columbus after learning about Knezevich's planned grand jury testimony, and that such a flight proved Dillon's awareness of his guilt of the crimes charged. Dillon preserved his appeal from the admission of evidence of flight by timely objections at trial. He sought to persuade the court that his departure from Columbus came at least two years after the alleged offense and well before the indictment was filed, so that he had nothing to flee from. Thus, he appealed on two grounds: (1) that the district court erred by admitting evidence of his flight and by giving the jury an instruction on flight; and (2) that the district court erred when it refused to exclude a juror when it appeared that her husband was attending the trial.
Did the court district abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of Dillon's flight at trial?
The court of appeals held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of defendant's flight at the trial and gave a proper jury instruction regarding flight. The court of appeals determined that the evidence before the jury allowed a sound inference, not merely a speculative one that defendant had fled and the evidence was sufficiently probative of a guilty conscience to overcome the prejudice it entailed. The court of appeals also held that the district court validly refused to strike a juror whose husband was attending the trial because the district court held an extensive in camera hearing and concluded that the juror was not discussing the case and was still impartial.
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