Federal judge orders new trial in felony gun possession case

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Finding the interests of justice require a new trial for a man convicted of a federal gun crime in which the government withheld potentially exculpatory evidence, Judge William T. Lawrence granted his request Wednesday in the Southern District of Indiana Terre Haute division.

Donald Bickel of Jasonville was convicted in November after authorities obtained a search warrant for his home but then watched and waited as someone left and drove to the woods in Bickel’s truck. Officers didn’t confirm Bickel’s identity as they watched, though, and waited another 12 hours before executing the warrant.

Lawrence vacated Bickel’s conviction of possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of ammunition by a felon and granted his motion for a new trial. He ruled that the government failed to disclose the period of surveillance and it suppressed Norman Arthur Pilant’s statement that he was the owners of guns and ammunition for which Bickel was charged. Pilant also claimed he was driving Bickel’s truck as police watched.

“The Court now finds that the cumulative effect of the Government’s failure to disclose the period of police surveillance prior to Bickel’s arrest and the recorded statement made by Norman Arthur Pilant at the scene of Bickel’s arrest prior to trial, jeopardized the substantial rights of the Defendant,” Lawrence wrote.

Chief Federal Defender Monica Foster of Indiana Federal Community Defenders Inc. praised federal defender Joseph Cleary for getting the conviction vacated.

“This case sends a clear message that prosecutorial misconduct will not be tolerated by the federal courts,” Foster said in a statement. “We have been concerned about the United States Attorney’s discovery policies in the recent past and this case demonstrates those concerns have merit. Our justice system is built on the premise that the Government plays fair and we continue our commitment to making sure they do.”


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