June 25, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Former Police Officer’s Drug and Theft of Government Funds Convictions Affirmed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Wells on Friday, January 3, 2013.

A grand jury charged Harold Wells, an officer of the Tulsa Police Department, with multiple offenses relating to the performance of his official duties. Following trial, a jury convicted Wells on two counts of violating federal drug laws and two counts of theft of government funds. On appeal, Wells raised the following four challenges to his convictions: (1) the district court erred in ruling he had no expectation of privacy while conducting a consent-based search of a motel room outside the presence of the room’s occupant; (2) the drug convictions are not supported by sufficient evidence; (3) the district court erred in excluding, as hearsay, certain audio recordings contained on a key fob; and (4) the district court erred when it denied his motion for a mistrial after a government witness testified about the possibility he had previously negotiated a plea deal with the government.

The Tenth Circuit largely adopted the district court’s reasoning as its own in concluding Wells had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the undercover agent’s motel room outside the presence of the agent. The court also rejected Wells’s insufficiency of the evidence arguments.

The court found no abuse of discretion in the exclusion of the key fob evidence as the rule of completeness was not implicated. Applying the factors in United States v. Meridyth, the court held that the denial of a mistrial was also not an abuse of discretion. The court affirmed.

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