7th Circuit upholds bank robbery conviction despite errors

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Although a federal court in Indianapolis committed some errors in admitting certain evidence at a man’s bank robbery trial, those errors were harmless based on DNA evidence and the defendant matching the robber’s description, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held Friday.

In United States of America v. Milford J. Clark, 12-1417, Milford Clark appealed his convictions of bank robbery and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The government charged Clark for the robbery of an Indianapolis Regions Bank in April 2010.

Days before the robbery, Clark and another man entered a Harvesters Credit Union branch and asked for a deposit slip, which Harvesters does not use. Clark was wearing a two-tone baseball cap and sunglasses hanging on his T-shirt and left in a blue Ford Crown Victoria. The robber of the bank had on a similar hat and sunglasses and also left in a blue Ford Crown Victoria. Clark’s DNA evidence was found on bags left behind at the bank.

Clark told the magistrate judge that he wanted to proceed pro se, which the magistrate granted. But later, the District judge asked him again about proceeding pro se since DNA evidence would be used. Clark then decided to use a public defender and was convicted.

He argued on appeal that his Sixth Amendment right to proceed pro se was infringed upon because the federal court improperly reconsidered an issue already decided by the magistrate. But the 7th Circuit rejected his argument because the District Court was free to analyze whether his waiver was valid wince the magistrate’s ruling was limited to Clark’s initial appearance. Also, the addition of the DNA evidence to the government’s case gave the court reason to question whether Clark fully understood the perils of going pro se, Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote.

Although troubled by the government’s introduction of more evidence than necessary to show Clark’s identity – including video from Harvesters Bank and testimony from employees that Clark’s actions were “casing” the credit union – the 7th Circuit still affirmed his convictions. The judges found any errors in introducing more than a still photo and failing to weigh the probative and prejudicial values of the evidence on the record were harmless since Clark met the physical description of the robber and his DNA was found at the bank.  

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