May 24, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Properly Instructed on Element of Self-Defense

On Thursday, April 24, 2014, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lane.

Jury Instructions—Lay Testimony—Expert Testimony—Mental Examination—Restitution.

After consuming several drinks, defendant Jason Lane and the victim went to Lane’s motel room in Aurora, where the victim and a neighbor of Lane’s smoked crack cocaine. Afterward, Lane permitted the victim to spend the night. According to Lane, he awoke in the middle of the night to find the victim groping his chest and genitals over his clothing. Lane claimed he acted in self-defense by stabbing the victim with a steak knife thirteen times in the chest, killing him. The jury convicted Lane of second-degree murder, and the trial court sentenced him to forty-five years in prison. The trial court also ordered Lane to pay restitution to all three of the victim’s siblings.

On appeal, Lane contended that the trial court erred in giving the jury improper jury instructions. The applicable self-defense statute emphasizes the reasonableness of a defendant’s use of self-defense. Here, the trial court properly instructed the jury on this element, and defense counsel did not tender an alternative instruction or raise further objections. The court also properly instructed the jury on the issue of defendant’s claim of an elemental traverse, which does not place the burden on the prosecution to disprove this type of self-defense.

Lane also contended that the trial court erred in excluding certain expert and lay testimony. The court did not err in finding that Lane’s request for expert testimony concerning post-traumatic stress disorder triggered Lane’s requirement to undergo a court-ordered examination for this condition, which Lane refused to do. The court also did not abuse its discretion in denying Lane’s request to present lay witnesses to testify about physical and sexual abuse perpetrated against him when he was a young child and an adolescent, because this testimony was too remote and irrelevant without expert testimony to explain the impact of such incidents on Lane’s mental state.

Lane further contended that the trial court erred in limiting the cross-examination of D.B., a prosecution witness who worked at the bar where Lane and the victim met the night of the crime. However, the record shows that defense counsel elicited, and the jury had ample information about, D.B.’s felony conviction and background to assess her credibility. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the further details of this issue.

Finally, Lane contended that the trial court erred in awarding restitution for the travel expenses of all three of the victim’s siblings to attend the trial. Because the statute permits such restitution when a victim is deceased, the trial court did not err in awarding restitution to the victim’s siblings. The judgment and order were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Expert Did Not Simply Repeat Outside Information, but Formed Conclusions Based on His Experience

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Kamahele on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

Mr. Eric Kamahele, Mr. Daniel Maumau, Mr. Kepa Maumau, Mr. Sitamipa Toki, and Mr. Mataika Tuai appeal their convictions arising from armed robberies and shootings in connection with the Tongan Crips Gang (“TCG”) in Glendale, Utah. In a jury trial, Mr. Kamahele, Mr. Kepa Maumau, and Mr. Tuai were found guilty of conspiring to commit a racketeering offense under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968 (2006). Mr. Eric Kamahele, Mr. Daniel Maumau, Mr. Kepa Maumau, and Mr. Sitamipa Toki were found guilty of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity (“VICAR”), 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a) (2006). Mr. Kamahele, Mr. Kepa Maumau, and Mr. Tuai were also found guilty of violating the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a) (2006). And all were found guilty of violating 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) (2006), for using guns during their respective crimes.

All of the defendants contend the district court erred by: (1) admitting expert testimony by Mr. Break Merino about the TCG’s history, structure, and activities, and (2) denying their motions for a judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 based on the Government’s failure to prove various elements of RICO and VICAR. Four defendants also raised individual claims.

The Tenth Circuit rejected all of the individual and collective arguments and affirmed the judgments of the trial court.

Mental Health Experts and the Look of Science

Dr-JohnBy John A. Zervopoulos, Ph.D., J.D., ABPP

Do you know what science looks like?—a key Daubert/Shreck-era question for mental health experts. Statistics? Publications? A body of facts? Don’t view these badges as proofs of science. Instead, step back and view science as a mindset, a way of doing critical thinking—how one assesses which ideas are reasonable and which are not. A basic question highlights the scientific inquiry: “How do you know what you say you know?”

Too often we mistakenly accept imposters of science. Daubert caselaw, addressing this problem, stresses that courts must look past the badges of science to determine whether to trust the expert’s testimony. For example, pronouncements from experts with sterling qualifications don’t by themselves certify the testimony as trustworthy. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 157 (1999). Publication—one element of peer review—is not a sine qua non of admissibility; it does not necessarily correlate with reliability. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 593 (1993). General acceptance does not help show that an expert’s testimony is reliable where the discipline itself lacks reliability, as, for example, do theories grounded in any so-called generally accepted principles of astrology. Kumho Tire Co., 526 U.S. at 151.

The late physicist Richard Feynman told a classic tale, Cargo Cult Science, to analogize how some people use the look of science to try to emulate real science. He described a group of South Sea people who had seen airplanes deliver cargos of goods and materials to their islands during World War II. After the War, these islanders wanted the imports to continue—but the pilots had gone home. So, the islanders set out to re-create the setting: They made runways; a hut for a man, the controller, to sit in; two bamboo pieces as antennae for the man to strap to his head. Then everyone waited for airplanes to land. The islanders, from their view, did everything right. The form seemed perfect, but no airplanes landed. The islanders were missing something essential.

Feynman’s point—and Daubert’s: Mental health experts, like the islanders, sometimes highlight badges of science to prove their testimony but neglect to exercise the essential critical thinking that science and caselaw require. Ask, “How do you know what you say you know?”—repeatedly, if necessary—to expose the bases of mental health testimony. Cargo cult science or critical thinking-based science?

John A. Zervopoulos, Ph.D., J.D., ABPP is a forensic psychologist and lawyer who directs PsychologyLaw Partners, a forensic consulting service providing consultation to lawyers on psychology-related issues, materials, and testimony. His second book, How to Examine Mental Health Experts: A Family Lawyer’s Guide to Issues and Strategies, is newly published by the American Bar Assn. He is online at and can be contacted at 972-458-8007 or at

CLE Program: How to Examine Mental Health Experts: A Practical Plan

This CLE presentation will take place on March 6, 2014. Click here to register for the live program, and click here to register for the webcast. You may also call (303) 860-0608 to register.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here — MP3 audio downloadVideo OnDemandCD homestudy

Colorado Court of Appeals: Judgment of Trial Court Affirmed in Child Sexual Assault Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Conyac on Thursday, January 30, 2014.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Challenge for Cause—Expert Testimony—Motive—CRE 404(b)—Rape Shield Statute—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

KT informed her mother, LC, that defendant, her stepfather, had molested her. A jury found defendant guilty of three counts of incest; three counts of sexual assault on a child—position of trust; and one count of sexual assault on a child—position of trust pattern of abuse.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying a challenge for cause to a juror who stated that her niece had been sexually assaulted and murdered by her sister’s live-in boyfriend. The Court of Appeals disagreed. Because the juror also stated she could consider the evidence in the case and make a decision and follow the presumption of innocence, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s challenge for cause.

Defendant claimed the trial court erroneously allowed two unqualified prosecution witnesses to testify as experts. The Court reviewed the trial court’s admission of expert testimony and found no abuse of discretion.

The Court disagreed that the officer’s testimony was an improper commentary on defendant’s credibility. The Court found that the testimony was an explanation of the officer’s interview tactics.

The Court agreed with the trial court ruling that a defendant’s prior attempt or request to have anal sex with his spouse may be relevant concerning motive in a child sexual abuse trial, provided the evidence otherwise satisfies CRE 404(b). Here, the evidence related to a material fact and it had logical relevance.

Defendant asserted that the court erroneously excluded evidence of the pending dependency and neglect case concerning LC. The Court disagreed, ruling that exclusion of this additional evidence did not contribute to the guilty verdict.

Defendant argued that the trial court erred in excluding evidence of KT’s prior sexual knowledge and familiarity with sexual assault investigations, because the evidence was relevant to rebut the “natural assumption” that KT could only know about such facts from defendant and to support his defense that KT’s allegations were aimed at removing him from the home because she disliked his rules and disciplinary efforts. The Court disagreed, finding that KT was old enough to know about sexual matters regardless of her experience with defendant and there was alternative evidence of KT’s outside sexual knowledge. In addition, the prosecution did not argue that KT was sexually naïve and had no other source of sexual knowledge.

Defendant also claimed that prosecutorial misconduct in the rebuttal closing argument required reversal. The Court disagreed. The prosecutor used rhetorical devices and argument to point out the weaknesses of defendant’s theory of the case. Although the prosecutor made an erroneous statement regarding the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard, it was not plain error. The Court also rejected defendant’s challenge of the constitutionality of the rape shield statute and the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision, as well as the determination of his habitual criminal charges without a jury. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Expert Testimony on Gang Affiliation Properly Admitted

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Archuleta on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.

Nathan Archuleta was a leader of the Tortilla Flats gang in New Mexico. The Tortilla Flats are an affiliate of the Sureños, a group of gangs with ties to the Mexican Mafia. In June 2009, Archuleta orchestrated a plan to smuggle methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States. The scheme was unsuccessful and Archuleta was arrested and indicted.

Before trial, Archuleta filed a motion to exclude gang-affiliation expert testimony. The district court held two hearings and ruled that Lujan, the government’s gang expert, could testify about the Sureños gang, the significance of its tattoos, structure, activities, and affiliation with the Mexican Mafia. Archuleta objected, and the court overruled his objection.

A jury convicted Archuleta of possession of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, conspiracy to possess methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Archuleta appealed. On appeal, Archuleta contended that admission of a gang expert’s testimony violated Federal Rules of Evidence 403, 702, and 704(b). Of these three evidentiary rules, only Rule 403 was raised by Archuleta before the district court. As a result, the court’s review of his arguments pertaining to Rule 702 and Rule 704(b) was limited to plain error review.

Rule 403 permits a court to exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence. Fed. R. Evid. 403. After reviewing the record, the Tenth Circuit was not persuaded that the district court abused its discretion in allowing the government’s gang expert to testify. His testimony was not cumulative, confusing or misleading, or unfairly prejudicial.

Rule 702 requires a district court to satisfy itself that the proposed expert testimony will assist the trier of fact, before permitting a jury to assess such testimony. The court held that Archuleta failed to explain how the relevant evidence regarding gangs, which no other witness covered, was unhelpful to the jury’s understanding of the implications of Archuleta’s membership in the Tortilla Flats gang.

Archuleta’s final argument was that Lujan’s testimony violated Rule 704(b) because it was the functional equivalent of an opinion that Mr. Archuleta in fact had knowledge of the smuggling scheme. Under Rule 704(b), in a criminal case, an expert witness must not state an opinion about whether the defendant did or did not have a mental state or condition that constitutes an element of the crime charged or of a defense. The question was whether he improperly testified about Archuleta’s mental state.  The court admitted that, even if Lujan’s testimony violated Rule 704(b), Archuleta could not demonstrate plain error. This demanding standard required him to show, among other things, that the error must have affected the outcome of the district court’s proceedings. This he did not show.


Tenth Circuit: Disclosure of Material Considered by Expert Containing Factual Ingredients Required

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in In re Application of Republic of Ecuador on Wednesday, November 13, 2013.

Intervenor-Appellant Chevron Corporation appealed from a district court order granting a motion to compel production of documents pursuant to subpoenas issued under 28 U.S.C. § 1782. Section 1782 allows for discovery of documents to be used in a foreign proceeding. Petitioners-Appellees, the Republic of Ecuador and its Attorney General (collectively, “the Republic”) sought the discovery to defend an $18.2 billion judgment against Chevron by an Ecuadorian court in Lago Agrio. Chevron sought relief from that judgment pursuant to investment treaty arbitration under United Nations’ rules.

Prior to the Lago Agrio judgment, in September 2009, Chevron commenced arbitration proceedings against the Republic under the U.S.–Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty. In February 2011, immediately following the Lago Agrio judgment, the arbitral tribunal ordered that the Republic stay all efforts to enforce the Lago Agrio judgment, pending further order of the tribunal.

In June 2011, the Republic filed a § 1782 application in the District of Colorado seeking “discovery from Bjorn Bjorkman to aid the Republic in defending the validity of the Lago Agrio judgment.” The Republic alleged that Mr. Bjorkman served as one of Chevron’s chief experts and that the Ecuadorian court explicitly relied on his opinions. In the instant action, Chevron argued before the magistrate judge that the 2010 revisions to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 brought materials prepared by or provided to Mr. Bjorkman under the protection of the work-product doctrine. The magistrate judge rejected this argument and ordered the production of all of the facts and data the expert considered in forming his opinion. The Republic filed two motions to compel after Chevron continued to improperly withhold documents. The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s recommendations that only documents protected by Rules 26(b)(4)(B) and (C) were privileged.

On appeal, Chevron made several arguments that the 2010 revisions to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 radically changed the discoverability of documents held by experts. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, holding that the underlying purpose of the 2010 revision was to return the work-product doctrine to its traditional understanding, that it protects only the inner workings of an attorney’s mind. The court affirmed.

Colorado Supreme Court: Criminal Code Not Applicable in Juvenile Proceedings Except as Provided in Children’s Code

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People in Interest of A.A. on Tuesday, November 12, 2013.

Colorado Code of Criminal Procedure—Colorado Children’s Code.

The People petitioned pursuant to CAR 21 for relief from an in limine ruling of the juvenile court allowing the introduction of testimony by the juvenile’s psychological expert without regard for the court-ordered examination mandated by CRS § 16-8-107. The juvenile court reasoned that in the absence of any provision of the Criminal Procedure Code specifying otherwise, the requirements of CRS § 16-8-107 did not apply to delinquency proceedings.

The Supreme Court approved the ruling of the juvenile court and discharged its rule to show cause. Because the Colorado Code of Criminal Procedure expressly provides that it will not apply to proceedings under the Colorado Children’s Code except as specifically set forth in the Criminal Procedure Code itself, and because no provision of the Criminal Procedure Code suggests that § 16-8-107 was intended to apply to proceedings under the Children’s Code, the Court found that the court-ordered examination in question cannot apply to delinquency proceedings.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Armed Bank Robbery Conviction Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Brooks on Thursday, August 29, 2013.

A jury convicted Anthony Brooks was convicted of armed bank robbery. He appealed his conviction, arguing that: (1) the evidence at trial was insufficient, as a matter of law, (2) the district court erred by admitting DNA evidence linking him to the crime scene; (3) the district court’s refusal to strike the testimony of the government’s expert witness constituted an abuse of discretion; (4) the district court abused its discretion by allowing the government to introduce evidence that Mr. Brooks was in possession of large amounts of cash several months following the robbery; and (5) the district court abused its discretion by denying Mr. Brooks’s motion for a new trial based on alleged juror misconduct.

The court found that the district court properly determined that the government established a sufficient foundation establishing a chain of custody for the DNA evidence. Finding no abuse of discretion, the court held the district court properly admitted the DNA evidence. The court also found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the testimony of the government’s expert witness. There was limited, if any, evidence that Mr. Brooks was prejudiced by the alleged discrepancy between the expert’s testimony and her report. The Tenth Circuit further held the district court did not err in admitting evidence that Mr. Brooks was in possession of large amounts of cash several months following the robbery. The possession of a large sum of cash at about the time of an offense may be considered as part of the circumstantial evidence where warranted by the particular facts involved. its probative value was not significantly diminished by the timing of the observations of his possession of the cash.

The court then turned to Mr. Brooks’ contention that insufficient evidence was produced at trial to support his conviction for armed bank robbery. Taking the evidence—both direct and circumstantial, together with the reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom—in the light most favorable to the government, the Tenth Circuit concluded a reasonable jury could find Mr. Brooks guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There was ample evidence in the record from which a reasonable jury could have found, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Mr. Brooks committed the bank robbery charged in the indictment.

Mr. Brooks’ final argument was that the district court erred in denying him a new trial based on alleged juror misconduct. Mr. Brooks argued that Mr. Clark, the jury foreperson, lied by omission in failing to inform the court and the parties during voir dire that he was under investigation by the same federal agency that was prosecuting Mr. Brooks. Under McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984), a litigant is entitled to a new trial in the face of allegations that a juror’s voir dire responses are untruthful when a party demonstrates that a juror failed to answer honestly a material question on voir dire, and then further shows that a correct response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause. The district court found that while the second prong of the McDonough test may have been met, it found that the juror’s responses to be truthful and denied Mr. Brooks’ motion for a new trial. The Tenth Circuit found no clear error in the district court’s determination.


Tenth Circuit: Summary Judgment for Medical Malpractice Defendants Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Talavera v. Wiley on Wednesday, August 7, 2013.

Carmen Talavera suffered a stroke while visiting a store in November 2007 and incurred permanent disabilities that she attributed to the medical malpractice of personnel at the Southwest Medical Center (SWMC), where she was taken after her stroke. Talavera brought claims against a number of these medical personnel defendants under diversity jurisdiction, alleging that they should have diagnosed and immediately treated her stroke symptoms with blood-clotting therapy, or, absent that, proceeded with early surgical intervention to prevent damage caused by swelling in her brain. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants.

The Tenth Circuit first discussed the weight to give a report submitted by Dr. Helgason, Talavera’s expert neurologist. In the report, Dr. Helgason offered opinions as to how she believed the defendants had caused Talavera’s injuries. She later qualified those opinions in her deposition. The court held that a party “cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact solely by relying on a conclusion that was written in an expert report and later qualified during that expert’s deposition. A witness’s later qualifications are the relevant ‘opinions’ for purposes of summary judgment unless there is some reason for disregarding them.”

The court then applied Kansas law to Talavera’s tort claims and affirmed summary judgment.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Officer’s Testimony Regarding Speed of Vehicle was Expert Testimony Disguised as Lay Opinion but Error was Harmless

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McGinn on Thursday, June 20, 2013.

Vehicular Eluding—Double Jeopardy—Merger—Lay Witness—Expert Testimony—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Defendant Glenn McMinn appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of four counts of vehicular eluding, four counts of eluding a police officer, and one count of menacing. The judgment was affirmed.

McMinn and his girlfriend got into a fight, and he called the police. When Police Officer Anderson arrived at his house, McMinn was already in his pickup truck. He backed out of his driveway and accelerated. Because there was packed snow and ice on the road, the truck slid sideways, striking the officer. McMinn then led the police on a chase before being apprehended.

McMinn contended that under double jeopardy principles, his four convictions for vehicular eluding must be merged and his four convictions for eluding a police officer also must be merged. A defendant may be charged with multiple offenses of vehicular eluding arising from a single criminal episode when he or she has performed discrete acts of eluding one or more peace officers, each constituting a new volitional departure in the defendant’s course of conduct. Here, four officers, including Anderson, testified about being individually eluded during, and each had individual facts. Thus, the evidence supports separate convictions here.

McMinn also contended that the trial court plainly erred in allowing Sergeant Pinson to testify, as a lay witness, to calculations regarding the speed of the truck, and to opine, based on these calculations, that the truck was a deadly weapon. His testimony in fact was expert testimony presented in the guise of lay opinion, and the error in admitting such testimony was obvious and substantial. Because this evidence was cumulative of other evidence properly presented at trial, however, the erroneous admission of Sergeant Pinson’s expert opinions does not warrant reversal.

McMinn further argued that reversal was required due to prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument. Although some of the prosecutor’s comments may have been improper, they weren’t so obvious to undermine the fundamental fairness of the trial or cast serious doubt on the reliability of the judgment of conviction, especially when considered in the light of the evidence presented.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Shreck Hearing Required for Admission of Fingerprint Evidence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wilson on Thursday, May 23, 2013.

Voir Dire—Entrapment—Shreck Hearing—Expert Testimony—Fingerprint Evidence—Prior Conviction—Burden of Proof—Preponderance of the Evidence.

Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of possession of a controlled substance, as well as the sentence that the court subsequently imposed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment and sentence.

In May 2008, defendant asked an undercover police officer, who was posing as a prostitute on east Colfax Avenue, if she wanted to smoke crack cocaine with him. When he showed her a Blistex tube that contained three rocks of crack cocaine, police officers from the Aurora Police Department arrested him.

Defendant argued that voir dire was insufficient because the trial court refused his request that the court read to the potential jurors a legal definition of the defense of entrapment. Both the prosecutor and defense counsel, however, had the opportunity to question jurors about the general nature of the entrapment defense. Further, the trial court properly gave instructions to the jury on the issue of entrapment at the close of the evidence. Accordingly, the trial court’s denial of defendant’s request to instruct the jury on the defense of entrapment duringvoir dire was not an abuse of discretion.

Defendant further argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion to hold a Shreck hearing on the admissibility of expert testimony regarding fingerprint evidence concerning a prior conviction. [People v. Shreck, 22 P.3d 68 (Colo. 2001).] The Court ruled that the motions court acted within its discretion when it denied defendant’s request for a Shreck hearing because: (1) the trial court was the finder of fact, not a jury; (2) defendant was permitted to raise issues during the sentencing hearing that would have been allowed during a Shreck hearing; (3) the evidence was not complex; and (4) fingerprint comparisons are reliable evidence.

Defendant contended that the trial court denied his right to due process of law when it used the wrong burden of proof—a preponderance of the evidence—in finding that he had been convicted of the 1997 drug-related felony. When a sentencing statute does not establish a burden of proof, “the prosecution need only prove the existence of prior conviction facts by a preponderance of the evidence.” CRS § 18-18-405(2.3)(a) was a sentence enhancer, not a substantive offense or an element of a substantive offense, and did not contain a prescribed burden of proof. Thus, the trial court used the proper evidentiary standard—a preponderance of the evidence—and defendant’s due process rights were not abridged.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Convictions and Sentences Affirmed in Case Arising from Defendants’ Operation of Medical Clinic

The Tenth Circuit published its opinion in United States v. Schneider on Wednesday, January 16, 2013.

Dr. Stephen Schneider was a doctor of osteopathic medicine and his wife, Ms. Schneider, was a licensed nurse (“the Schneiders”). They owned and operated Schneider Medical Clinic in Haysville, Kansas, where they provided pain management treatment, including the prescription of controlled substances. A Kansas grand jury indicted the Schneiders. At trial, they were convicted of several counts of unlawful drug distribution, health care fraud, and money laundering arising from their operation of the Medical Clinic. The district court sentenced Dr. Schneider to 360 months’ imprisonment, and Ms. Schneider to 396 months’ imprisonment. The Schneiders appeal their convictions, alleging that (1) they were denied the right to conflict-free representation; (2) the district court erroneously admitted expert testimony; (3) the district court improperly instructed the jury; and (4) there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of health care fraud resulting in death.

(1) The Schneiders argue they were denied the right to conflict-free representation.

The Tenth Circuit held Dr. and Ms. Schneider waived all potential conflicts voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently, based on the totality of the circumstances, following two hearings on potential conflicts.

(2) The Schneiders contend the district court erroneously admitted expert testimony.

Dr. Parran, an expert witness for the government, testified “the clinic was at fault” for illegal drug distribution. Dr. Parran also testified that, from his review of the records, the Schneiders ran a “dishonest practice.” Another expert witness for the government, Dr. Jorgensen, opined that the Schneiders’ health care fraud resulted in patients’ deaths, and that he believed the Schneiders filed fraudulent claims. The Schneiders objected to this testimony.

The rules of evidence allow an expert to opine on an “ultimate issue” to be decided by the trier of fact. Fed. R. Evid. 704(a). However, an expert may not simply tell the jury what result it should reach; he or she must explain the basis for any summary opinion. Here, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the admission of Drs. Parran and Jorgensen’s testimony. Neither doctor told the jury to reach a particular verdict, i.e., that Dr. Schneider was guilty. Rather, after explaining at great length their observations from the evidence, they summarized their findings in their testimony.

(3) Defendants allege the district court improperly instructed the jury.

The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of  discretion in the jury instructions objected to at trial, considering de novo the instructions as a whole to determine whether they accurately informed the jury of the governing law. The Tenth Circuit found no plain error in the instructions objected to for the first time on appeal.

(4) The Schneiders argue there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of health care fraud resulting in death.

After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict to ascertain whether any rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the Tenth Circuit held sufficient evidence supported the convictions on these counts.