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Judges order new trial for woman who withdrew, deposited cash from ATMs

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In a split decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the majority reversed a Russian woman’s conviction for violating a federal statute that prohibits structuring currency transactions in order to evade federal reporting requirements for transactions involving more than $10,000 in currency. The majority cited the prosecution’s questioning of the woman about past financial records as the reason for reversal.

Yulia Abair, who moved to the United States in 2005, married, and later got divorced, learned two weeks before the close on her new house that her bank in Russia would not deposit the money she needed from her account there to her U.S. account because her last name on the accounts did not match. She scrambled around Indiana, withdrawing the maximum daily amount of cash from her Russian account from Citibank ATMs and deposited the money into her local bank account. The government became aware of her activity when she made two deposits around Memorial Day, which pushed her daily deposit over the $10,000 reporting threshold set by regulation.

She was indicted by a grand jury on eight charges and convicted, with the judge merging the counts into one. At trial, the District judge allowed the prosecutor to ask Abair about a 2008 joint income tax return and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms she filled out while attending nursing school. The government wanted to attack Abair’s truthfulness by using these forms, claiming she lied on the forms.

In United States of America v. Yulia Yurevna Abair, 13-2498, the judges did not hide their beliefs that the government may have better directed its prosecutorial resources elsewhere instead of bringing charges against Abair, a nurse and mother of an 11-year-old son. Due to her conviction, she forfeited the entire value of her house after selling it, which was $67,000.

“In this case we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the cross-examination on Abair’s financial filings because the government did not provide a sufficient basis to believe the filings were probative of Abair’s character for truthfulness. Rule 608(b) requires that the crossexaminer have reason to believe the witness actually engaged in conduct that is relevant to her character for truthfulness,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the majority.

While the 7th Circuit didn’t need to hold that the scope of the questioning itself was error under Rule 403 or under Rule 611’s bar on harassing or wasteful questioning, the cross-examination in this case went on so long and in such detail as to dispel any suggestion that the error was harmless, Hamilton continued.

“We recognize that the government believes that Abair may have been involved in a range of other wrongdoing, but there is simply no evidence of other wrongdoing. For all that appears in this record, Abair is at most a one-time offender who committed an unusually minor violation of the structuring statute not tied to other wrongdoing. We therefore have serious doubts that the forfeiture of her home’s entire $67,000 value comports with the ‘principle of proportionality’ that is the ‘touchstone of the constitutional inquiry under the Excessive Fines Clause,’ but further exploration of the issue can await a new trial.”

Judge Diane Sykes dissented from her colleagues because despite the prosecutorial overreaching, she found no legal error. To cross-examine a witness under Rule 608(b)(1), the cross-examiner needs to only have a good-faith factual basis to support the proposed line of questioning, and that stand was met in this case, she wrote.

Sykes also noted in a footnote, “Despite our disagreement about the legal issue under Rule 608(b)(1), my colleagues’ decision to reverse and remand for a new trial has the salutary effect of permitting a fresh exercise of prosecutorial discretion. The executive branch may choose to moderate its strict enforcement stance against Abair and resolve not to sink further resources into prosecuting her. Under the circumstances, that might be the most prudent and just thing to do.”

 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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