An appellate court reviews a district court's denial of a motion for mistrial for abuse of discretion. The cumulative effect of multiple errors may so prejudice a defendant's right to a fair trial that a new trial is required, even if the errors considered individually are non-reversible. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one. Where errors are made, the substantial rights of a defendant are not affected by those errors where properly admitted evidence sufficiently established guilt.
Evidence of the first defendant's 2000 arrest with large quantities of cocaine near his vessel was relevant to the truthfulness of his testimony that he had no prior acquaintance with his codefendant and his knowledge of the use of go-fast boats for transporting large quantities of cocaine. The similarity of circumstances in which he found himself again, apprehended off the Colombian coast in a flagless, go-fast boat surrounded by large quantities of cocaine, was highly probative of his criminal intent.
Did the district court err in convicting the defendants?
The court held that severance was properly denied. U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual §§ 2D1.1(b)(2)(B), 3B1.1, could be applied cumulatively. However, the sentencing judge's mistaken belief that the Guidelines were mandatory instead of advisory, as Booker held, required remand, as the sentencing transcript revealed the judge's explicit view that the Guidelines were mandatory and that he would have imposed a lesser sentence. Defendants' convictions were affirmed, but the sentences were vacated and remanded for resentencing in view of Booker.