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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Smith - 230 F.3d 300 (7th Cir. 2000)


To be sufficient, an indictment must fulfill three distinct functions. First, the indictment must state all of the elements of the crime charged; second, it must adequately apprise the defendant of the nature of the charges so that he may prepare a defense; and third, it must allow the defendant to plead the judgment as a bar to any future prosecutions for the same offense.


From 1994 through 1996, Craig Smith illegally harvested fresh water mussels. After harvesting, Smith would sell the mussels to the Mississippi Valley Shell Company ("MVSC"), which would then sell them to Japanese cultured pearl businesses. In 1995, as a result of poaching violations, Smith's Illinois clamming license was revoked. Though he continued to harvest mussels and sell them on his own, Smith also enlisted the aid of Timothy Heater. On April 1, 1997, government agents executed a search warrant of MVSC. While reviewing seized records, the agents learned of Heater's involvement in MVSC's operations. On April 2, 1998, Heater was served with a grand jury subpoena issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. Heater presented handwriting exemplars and discussed his involvement in the illegal clamming operation. Heater informed the agents of how he "laundered" Smith's illegally harvested clams, selling them to MVSC. Partially on the basis of Heater's testimony, Smith was indicted for interstate transportation of illegally taken wildlife in violation of 16 U.S.C.S. § 3372 ("the Lacey Act"). On Sept. 17, 1998, Smith pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment. The district court allowed Smith to remain free on bond, pending sentencing. The district court also admonished Smith to avoid contact with any government witness. On Oct. 30, 1998, Heater arrived at the Wells Fargo Lounge, located in Moline, Illinois. Upon entering the establishment, Heater noticed that Smith, accompanied by a group of friends, was seated at a table. When Heater was exiting the establishment to avoid any potential conflict, Smith approached Heater from behind, verbally threatened his life, and pushed him against a wall. Consequently, Smith was charged with one count of witness retaliation in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1513(b). On the second day of trial in federal district court, the court had learned that a juror was unable to travel to the court due to inclement weather. In conference, the court stated that it wished to proceed with an alternate juror, but gave both sides the opportunity to state their positions. Smith's counsel stated that he had talked to Smith who liked the absent juror a lot, and wished that the trial be resumed only when that juror could be present. Nonetheless, the court decided to replace the missing juror with an alternate juror. That day the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of witness retaliation. Smith appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court violated his constitutional right to be present at all phases of the criminal proceedings when the latter conducted an in-chambers conference concerning the substitution of a juror without Smith being present.


By conducting an in-chambers conference concerning the substitution of a juror without the presence of Smith, did the district court violate Smith’s constitutional right to be present at all phases of the criminal proceedings?




Given the facts of the case at hand, the appellate court concluded that no constitutional or other violation occurred with the district court's decision to substitute for the absent juror. According to the court, no Sixth Amendment right was implicated as no witness or evidence against Smith was presented during the in-chambers conference. Moreover, the court averred that there was no due process violation as Smith's due process rights were not implicated when he was excluded from an in-camera conference when that absence did not affect the court's ability to decide the issue or otherwise diminish Smith's ability to defend against the charges. According to the court, Smith's absence from the conference did not detract from his defense or in any way affect the fundamental fairness of the trial.

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