United States v. Fortes

619 F.2d 108 (1st Cir. 1980)



A witness' response to a question whether he told the truth on a previous occasion could well be probative of his character for truthfulness or untruthfulness. Still, the district court is not bound to allow examination into every incident that may possibly bear upon the witness' veracity. One factor to be considered is the extent to which the excluded question bears upon character traits that were otherwise sufficiently explored. The district court need not permit unending excursions into each and every matter touching upon veracity if a reasonably complete picture has already been developed.


On March 23, 1978, two individuals robbed the Tri-Town Mall branch of the Hancock Bank and Trust Company of $ 3,173. Eyewitnesses testified that the two participants were wearing camouflage jump suits and dark ski masks; detailed description or positive identification was not available. The eyewitnesses agreed, however, that there was a difference in height between the two robbers; in addition several eyewitnesses thought the taller of the two was a male, the shorter a female. The taller individual carried a sawed-off shotgun, which one witness identified as a pump action type; the other was unarmed. In order to link appellants Fortes and Jemison with this robbery, the government relied heavily on the testimony of Anton Ward, who at the time of trial was serving a three-year prison sentence for conspiracy to commit bank robbery imposed by the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. Ward testified at length as to his relationship and activities with the appellants between December 1977 and early April 1978. He said that on two occasions prior to the March robbery, Fortes, with Jemison present, showed him various weapons, including a 12-gauge pump action sawed-off shotgun. Ward testified that on the day following appellants' arrival in Connecticut, he asked Fortes and Jemison if they did a bank robbery. Fortes answered that they had, describing the details of the robbery. Besides the aforementioned testimonies, the government presented certain additional evidence including weapons, masks, and other physical evidence seized from a stolen Ford LTD station wagon linked with Fortes and Ward. Thereafter, the District Court for the District of Massachusetts convicted the two appellants of armed robbery. Both Fortes and Jemison challenged their conviction. Fortes challenged the district court's denial of his motion to suppress as evidence certain items seized from a brown Ford LTD station wagon and a footlocker found in the rear part of that vehicle. On the other hand, Jemison challenged the district court's admission of certain statements made by Fortes against her on two occasions during the days following the robbery. These statements were introduced through the testimony of Anton Ward. 


Did the district court err in: (i) denying Fortes’ motion to suppress as evidence certain items seized from a brown Ford LTD station wagon and a footlocker found in the rear part of that vehicle; and in (ii) admitting as evidence certain statements made by Fortes against Jemison?




The appellate court held that considering the type of crime, the nature of the described items, and the extent of defendants' opportunity for concealment, the magistrate reasonably suspected that evidence would be found in the stolen car; thus the search warrant was validly issued. The appellate court further held that the district court's admission of statements against Jemison made by Fortes about the robbery was proper, as it was shown that Jemison was present and comprehended the statements.

Click here to view the full text case and earn your Daily Research Points.