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No error in refusal to tender 'missing witness' instruction

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a man’s drug convictions, finding the District Court didn’t err by refusing to give the jury a requested “missing witness” instruction.

Lorenzo Tavarez was charged with two counts of distributing 50 grams or more of methamphetamine following two controlled drug buys at his apartment by a confidential informant. Before his trial, the CI disappeared and couldn’t be located by the prosecution or defense. She was the only person who had seen exactly what happened during the controlled buys leaving the government with only circumstantial evidence against Tavarez.

He requested the District Court give the jury the “missing witness” instruction, telling the jury that it could infer from the CI’s absence that the informant would have provided information unfavorable to the government’s case. The District Court declined.

Judge David Hamilton noted in United States of America v. Lorenzo Tavarez, No. 09-3879, that the missing witness instruction is disfavored in the 7th Circuit, but the District court had discretion to give it in unusual circumstances. Tavarez showed that even if called, the informant would have been able to provide relevant, noncumulative testimony on an issue in the case. But he couldn’t show that the CI was peculiarly in the other party’s power to produce. Neither the prosecution nor defense could locate the CI.

“And a witness’s status as a confidential informant does not necessarily give rise to a sufficient relationship with the government so as to render her unavailable to the defense,” wrote Judge Hamilton.

Tavarez couldn’t show the CI was available only to the government, so the District Court did not err in refusing the missing witness instruction.

The 7th Circuit also found a jury could have reasonably reached its guilty verdict based on the circumstantial evidence presented at trial. Most importantly, Tavarez’s fingerprint was found on one of the bags of drugs the CI provided to law enforcement.

"The case against Tavarez was not overwhelming. We can imagine innocent explanations for the fingerprint and the buy money in the men’s clothing,” wrote the judge. “But the ability to imagine an innocent explanation is not equivalent to harboring reasonable doubt. This circumstantial evidence was not so weak as to preclude a guilty verdict.”
 

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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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