Friday, August 4th, 2006

Charge That Defendant’s “Deep Personal Interest” Creates “Motive for False Testimony” Requires Reversal

United States v. Prince Gaines,Docket No. 04-5616 (Jacobs, Parker, Gleeson(D.J.)) : In a close gun-possession case, in which the defendant testified that he had not known of the presence of a gun found hidden (or less hidden) in a gypsy cab seat where he was a passenger, the Court found reversible error in a charge on the defendant’s interest in the case. The district court charged the jury that the defendant “has a deep personal interest in the result of the prosecution,” that this “interest creates a motive for false testimony,” and that “the defendant’s testimony should be scrutinized and weighed with care.”

In a fine opinion, the Court of Appeals held that the charge that the defendant’s interest created a “motive for false testimony” was error because it undermined the presumption of innocence, for it assumed that the defendant was guilty. In addition, after surveying the case law on charges noting the “deep personal interest” of the defendant, the Court found that there was no need to give, and much danger in giving, such a charge. Accordingly it instructed that “in future cases, district courts should not instruct juries to the effect that a testifying defendant has a deep personal interest in the case.” The defendant’s interest should be addressed only in the court’s general charge on witness credibility, and the jury should be told to assess a defendant’s testimony in the same way it judges testimony of other witnesses.

Congratulations to Darrell Fields on this fine result.

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