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District Court properly handles expert testimony by non-expert witnesses

March 31, 2014

Although neither witness called to testify in a criminal trial was an expert, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the District Court did not err by barring the testimony of the defense witness while allowing the statements of the government witness.

The 7th Circuit affirmed the conviction and sentence of Randall Causey in United States of American v. Randall B. Causey, 13-1321.
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Causey was convicted of one count of conspiring to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349 and eight counts of aiding and abetting the commission of, and committing the offenses of, wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343. He was sentenced to 108 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to defraud borrowers and lenders in a real estate scheme in Gary during the housing boom years of 2005 and 2006.

As the only defendant to not plead guilty, Causey had a five-day trial that took place in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division.

On appeal, Causey raised five issues, two of which asserted the District Court erred in its rulings on expert testimony.

During his trial, Causey called Douglas Kvachkoff, the owner of Indiana Title Network Co. Kvachkoff started by testifying about the contents of a closing folder he had, but when defense counsel began asking questions about how someone in the real estate industry would procure closing numbers, the District Court barred the responses as improper expert testimony.

The 7th Circuit agreed with the District Court. It found that the defense’s questions about the closing numbers required a specialized knowledge of the industry. Since Causey did not file the necessary Rule 16 disclosure, the 7th Circuit held that the District Court was within its discretion to exclude the expert testimony.

Also at trial, one of Causey’s co-conspirators, Sheila Chandler, was called as a witness for the government. Chandler testified about her role in the scheme and, at one point, said the Gary housing market was inflated by 400 percent.

Causey argued on appeal that Chandler was not qualified to give expert testimony and her 400 percent comment was beyond the scope of the government’s pretrial Rule 16 disclosure.

The 7th Circuit held that even if Chandler’s testimony exceeded the scope of the government’s disclosure, the error was harmless. Her statements were of little value to the government’s case and the defense counsel’s cross examination mitigated any potential harm by pointing out Chandler was not an appraiser.   


 

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