Wednesday, September 08, 2010

New Impeachment Evidence Can Serve as Basis for New Trial When Evidence Suggests Defendant was Wrongly Convicted

In United States v. Quiles, Nos. 09-1667 and 09-1686 (August 17, 2010) , the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of a new trial based on a government witness’ subsequent indictment on sexual assault charges finding that this new evidence was merely impeaching evidence on an unrelated matter that did not go to the heart of the instant case.

Defendants were convicted of money laundering based largely on the testimony of a confidential informant who, following the trial, was indicted in an unrelated matter on charges of child rape and other sexual crimes. Defendants moved for a new trial under Fed. R. Crim. 33 and the district court denied the motion asserting the new evidence was inadmissible impeachment evidence citing United States v. Saada, 212 F.3d 210, 216 (3d Cir. 2000), that mere impeachment evidence could not form the basis for granting a new trial.

The Third Circuit applied a de novo standard of review and clarified their holding in Saada. The Court held that Rule 33 permits courts to grant a new trial "when the interest of justice requires it." The Court asserted that "evidence that is merely impeaching is unlikely to reveal that there has been a miscarriage of justice." However, when asked to grant a new trial solely on the basis of new impeachment evidence, if the defendant has demonstrated an exculpatory connection between the evidence and the offense or that the newly discovered evidence totally undermined critical inculpatory evidence, a new trial can be warranted. Determination of the strength and importance of the connection or significance of the newly discovered evidence with respect to a witness’ credibility, is for the discretion of the district court.

The Court further rejected the argument there was insufficient evidence to convict Gloria Quiles. The Court also rejected the argument that German Quiles’ sentence was excessive based on the lesser sentence of the co-defendants, holding the district court explained their reasoning and that co-defendants do not have the right to be sentenced equally.

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