September 24, 2018

Tenth Circuit: Prosecutor’s Closing Remarks Did Not Clearly Use Co-Conspirators’ Guilty Pleas to Support Defendant’s Guilt

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Woods on Friday, August 22, 2014.

James Woods and several co-conspirators were indicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The co-conspirators agreed to testify against Woods at the indictment in connection with their guilty pleas. Woods’ defense at trial was that he was not distributing meth. At trial, prosecutors introduced several phone calls between Woods and the co-conspirators allegedly talking about meth, although meth was never mentioned explicitly or in code. Defense argued they could have been talking about some other drug or something else. The co-conspirators also testified against Woods regarding the meth distribution scheme. Defense repeatedly pointed to their agreements to testify in exchange for reduced sentences. During closing argument, the prosecution argued that the co-conspirator witnesses would not have testified that they were involved in a meth distribution scheme had they not actually been distributing meth. Defense did not simultaneously object. Woods was indicted, and appealed.

On appeal, Woods argued that the prosecutor’s closing remarks impermissibly encouraged the jury to look at the co-conspirators’ guilty pleas and the fact of prosecution as substantive evidence of Woods’ guilt. Because he did not raise the issues in the district court, the Tenth Circuit conducted a plain error review and found none. The prosecutor’s remarks could be interpreted multiple ways, including to bolster the argument that the co-conspirators were truthful since their credibility had been attacked by defense counsel. Because there was no “clear and obvious” error, the Tenth Circuit upheld the indictment.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*