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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. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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  4. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  5. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

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