A motion for a new trial based on new evidence is to be granted only with great caution in the most extraordinary circumstances, where it is required in the interest of justice. Such relief should be granted only if the evidence is material to the verdict, could not with due diligence have been discovered before or during trial, and is not cumulative. Where the allegation is that there is new evidence of perjury, a threshold inquiry is whether the evidence demonstrates that the witness in fact committed perjury. If the court finds that perjury was committed unbeknownst to the prosecutor, the materiality element is satisfied if the court is left with a firm belief that but for the perjured testimony, the defendant would most likely not have been convicted. It is the defendant who bears the burden of showing that a new trial is called for. The court will not reverse the denial of a new-trial motion or the refusal to conduct an evidentiary hearing absent an abuse of discretion.
Defendants Robert Sasso, Jr., and Anthony Armienti challenged their convictions in the District Court for firearms offenses. Defendants contended that the district court made erroneous evidentiary and discovery rulings and that it erred in denying their motion for a new trial, and that their rights under the Confrontation Clause, U.S. Const. amend. VI, were violated.
Did the court err in denying defendant’s motion for a new trial on the ground that one of the government's key witnesses committed perjury?
The court affirmed defendants' convictions. The court held that it was not an abuse of discretion to deny cross-examination on a witness' psychiatric treatment and medication that resulted from a specific event, which was relatively recent and was unlikely to have had any probative value. There was no indication that she was in a delusional state or that the medications affected her ability to perceive events. Thus, the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Const. amend. VI was not violated and the conclusion that the potential prejudice outweighed the probative value was appropriate. Her testimony that one defendant's statements implicated the other did not violate confrontation rights given the circumstances strongly suggesting that they were reliable. The new trial motion based on a witness' alleged perjury was properly denied without an evidentiary hearing. It was not factually supported and it would not have altered the verdict. One defendant's challenge to the fine imposed upon him due to his alleged inability to pay was properly rejected because the claim was unsubstantiated and he did not cooperate in exploring his financial resources.