U.S. v. Paulino, Docket No. 04-2553-cr (2d Cir. March 29, 2006) (Oakes, Raggi, Wesley):
Having decided a routine Crawford issue in U.S. v. Snype, the Court, again by Judge Raggi, turns in this case to a more complicated situation. The case raises the interesting question whether a court’s instruction to a jury that a hearsay statement is not to be considered for its truth eliminates all Sixth Amendment concerns, even where no alternate purpose for its admission seems obvious, and where the district court’s limiting instruction may not have obviated all need for cross-examination.
The police executed an arrest warrant for the defendant’s father, Adolfo, at Adolfo’s apartment, where the defendant was living. Adolfo gave consent to search, and the officers found cocaine in the hall closet. Adolfo stated, apparently with respect to these drugs, that he owned them and that “no one else was involved in the drugs.” He added “that he had no other drugs in the apartment.” The police then found additional cocaine in the closet in the defendant’s bedroom and the defendant was charged with possessing it. The defense objected to the admission of the statements and the trial court ruled that they were admissible, not for their truth, but so that the jury could “understand the course of events that unfolded” and could “make a judgment as to whether or not the agent has accurately described the conversation.”
The Court held that these circumstances presented no Sixth Amendment claim, since the district court did not admit the statements for their truth, but this does not seem entirely clear. Since Adolfo’s statement that he “had no other drugs,” thus inculpating the defendant, was admissible under the court’s instruction to help the jury “understand the … events” and to permit them to consider whether the agent “accurately described the conversation,” the instruction seems arguably to put its truth in question rather than taking it from the jury, to the extent it admits the statements for a relevant purpose at all.
Having disposed of the Sixth Amendment question, the Court found it necessary to determine only whether the district court abused its discretion in admitting the evidence because it was irrelevant. The Court found the damaging portion of the statement relevant solely as a response to the defense argument, that all the drugs were Adolfo’s. But this seems to contradict the Court’s primary holding, for it acknowledges that the real relevance of the statement arose from its content – that the drugs were not Adolfo’s. This would seem to put the statement’s truth in issue, violating Crawford. The Court seems to find, nonetheless, that admission of Adolfo’s damaging statements for their truth was permissible because the defense used part of the statements. The correctness of this holding would depend on a fact the Court leaves unclear, whether the defense used the statements before the district court had ruled on their admissibility, or whether it used them in reliance on the court’s erroneous evidentiary ruling. If the latter is the case, as one footnote suggests, the trial court’s prior ruling cannot fairly be justified based on the defense’s later actions in reliance on that ruling.
In another ruling, the Court held that two prior convictions and one arrest for drug trafficking could be admitted against the defendant to show his “knowledge” or “intent,” even though he argued that his defense was solely that he did not possess the drugs. The Court stated that the defense did not agree to take the issues of knowledge and intent out of the case; indeed, the opinion can be read as saying that a defendant can never take those issues out of a case where constructive possession is charged. And indeed, it raises the question whether the Court thinks that they can be taken out of a case in which any possession charged, since possession must always be knowing to be culpable.
The Court also rejected claims that Brady material was not timely turned over to the defense and that excusing a juror and taking a verdict from an 11-person jury was error.
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