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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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