Law School Case Brief
United States v. Old Chief - 121 F.3d 448 (9th Cir. 1997)
Where a trial court learns of a possible incident of jury misconduct, it is preferable to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the precise nature of the extraneous information, however, not every allegation that extraneous information has reached the jury requires a full-dress hearing.
Johnny Lynn Old Chief was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, using or carrying a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and assault with a dangerous weapon on an Indian reservation in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1153. Old Chief sought review. Old Chief appealed on five grounds: (1) that the district court erred by allowing the prosecution to introduce extrinsic evidence of his prior felony conviction despite his offer to stipulate to his felon status; (2) that the district court erred by not ordering the prosecution to conduct fingerprint comparisons of all witnesses and individuals present at the scene of the offenses; (3) that his convictions on the assault charge and use enhancement were not supported by substantial evidence; (4) that the district court erred by not conducting a post-verdict evidentiary hearing regarding jury misconduct; and (5) that the district court improperly imposed a 57-month upward departure on his unlawful possession sentence in violation of the federal sentencing guidelines.
Did the district court abuse its discretion in refusing to conduct a post-verdict evidentiary hearing when criminal defendant Old Chief failed to show improper external influence on the jury sufficient to warrant it?
The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. The Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the prosecution to introduce evidence of Old Chief's prior conviction despite his offer to stipulate or by refusing to order the prosecution to compare a latent fingerprint to other witnesses where that evidence was not in their possession. The prosecution's Brady obligation was satisfied by providing Old Chief with the potentially exculpatory evidence that the latent print did not match his prints. Sufficient evidence supported Old Chief's conviction, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to conduct a post-verdict evidentiary hearing when Old Chief failed to show improper external influence on the jury sufficient to warrant it. The Court vacated Old Chief 's sentence and remanded because the extreme upward departure from the sentencing guidelines was not explained in the record to allow review.
Regarding the applicable standards of review, the Court reviewed the district court's decision to admit or exclude evidence for an abuse of discretion. As for the district court's decision as to alleged Brady violations, the appellate review is de novo. As for the determination of whether the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction, the Court determines whether, viewing all the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, a reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of each essential element of the crimes charged. Next, the district court's denial of a motion for a post-verdict evidentiary hearing is reviewed for an abuse of discretion.
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