Circuit Court orders new trial on Rule 404(b) grounds

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has found an Indiana federal court should not have allowed evidence of a defendant’s prior drug convictions under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b). As a result of the violation, the judges reversed the man’s drug conviction and ordered a new trial.

In United States of America v. Billy L. Hicks, No. 09-3608, Billy Hicks appealed his conviction of knowingly distributing cocaine base, challenging the dismissal of a juror based on her relationship to his girlfriend, who was a witness; admittance of tape recordings between Hicks and a confidential informant; and the District Court’s allowance of federal agents to testify regarding their personal observations during an arranged drug buy.

Hicks also challenged the trial court’s allowance of two prior drug convictions under Rule 404(b) to prove his knowledge of the drug industry and his intent to distribute crack cocaine during a July 2006 sale to the confidential informant. On this issue, the 7th Circuit ordered Hicks’ conviction be vacated.

The government never explained why the prior convictions were relevant to show that Hicks’ actions were a result of a mistake, wrote Judge Ann Claire Williams, and the Circuit Court was also not persuaded by the government’s argument that the prior convictions were admissible to show intent.

Hicks didn’t put his intent at issue during the government’s case-in-chief. Hicks also didn’t introduce his entrapment defense until after the government’s case-in-chief. The government should have waited until after Hicks’ entrapment defense materialized to offer the convictions, she wrote.

“In our view, the only apparent relevance of the prior convictions was the very inference that Rule 404(b) prohibits — that is, that Hicks had sold drugs in the past and probably did so this time as well,” the judge continued. “The government has failed to demonstrate that Hicks’s prior convictions established knowledge, lack of mistake, or intent.”

This error affected Hicks’ substantial rights, so the Circuit Court vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial.

The judges also ruled that the District Court did not err in dismissing for cause the juror who recognized Hicks’ girlfriend’s voice once she began testifying; in admitting the taped recordings between Hicks and the confidential informant, who had died before trial; and in admitting FBI agents’ testimony regarding alleged counter surveillance during an attempted meeting with Hicks.


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  1. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  2. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  3. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  4. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  5. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well