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United States v. Jones

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 26, 2013

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Maurice Jones Defendant-Appellant

Submitted: June 11, 2013

Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids

Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

BENTON, Circuit Judge.

A jury convicted Maurice Jones of being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2). He appeals, asserting that the district court[1] erred in restricting his cross-examination of a witness and denying his motion for a new trial (based on an alleged compromise verdict). Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

I.

Police responded to a report of "shots fired." They saw 10 to 20 people on the porch of a house. Under a weight bench on the porch, an officer found a pistol. The person nearest the bench was detained but released. No one was charged that night with possessing the gun. No fingerprints were recovered from it. Jones was on the porch.

Three days later, an officer interviewed Jones. The officer knew him from MAD DADS, an organization that mentors youth and gets guns off the street. Jones claimed a man named Gino gave him the gun that night after fleeing from gunfire. Jones said he put the gun under the weight bench. He then left town for a funeral and did not return. Before and at trial, Jones said he made up the Gino story to protect the person initially detained.

At trial, a cellmate — Scott Elkins — testified that Jones confessed he possessed the gun. The government showed a jail surveillance video (without audio) of Jones talking with Elkins and acting out the scene on the porch. Jones testified that the video was taken while they were discussing his stepson's murder and that Elkins read his legal papers to fabricate the confession. On cross-examination, Jones's counsel asked Elkins about his three fraud convictions, his motive to get a sentence reduction to see his family, the unlikelihood of Jones confessing to a known informant two weeks before trial, and his access to Jones's legal papers.

Jones was not allowed to introduce a federal magistrate judge's credibility finding from Elkins's detention hearing. Six days earlier, Elkins had testified as an informant against another cellmate, James Youngbear, who was subsequently acquitted. Jones was not permitted to question Elkins about the timing of the Youngbear acquittal in order to show Elkins's immediate need for another defendant to testify against.

The jury convicted Jones of possessing the gun, but not the ammunition in it. He was sentenced to 235 months' imprisonment.

II.

Jones argues that the district court abused its discretion in restricting the cross-examination of Elkins. "A trial court's decision to limit cross-examination will not be reversed unless there has been a clear abuse of discretion and a showing of prejudice to the defendant." United States v. Oaks, 606 F.3d 530, 540 (8th Cir. 2010). Jones claims that the court should have allowed (1) further cross-examination about Elkins's motivation for testifying, and (2) evidence of the magistrate judge's finding about his credibility. He invokes the Confrontation Clause. "A Confrontation Clause violation is shown when a defendant demonstrates a reasonable jury might have received a significantly different impression of a witness's credibility had counsel been allowed to pursue the proposed line of cross-examination." Id. Confrontation Clause violations are subject to harmless-error review. Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 684 (1986). Whether an error is "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" requires considering "the importance of the witness' testimony in the prosecution's case, whether the testimony was ...


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