April 22, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Guilty Plea Does Not Waive Defendant’s Right to Contest Evidence Admission for Other Purposes

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Farmer on Wednesday, November 5, 2014.

Joseph Farmer was pulled over on I-40 in Oklahoma in June 2012. The officer who stopped him smelled marijuana and asked to search the car. During the search, the officer found a loaded .357 revolver under the front edge of the driver’s seat. Based on these facts, a jury convicted Farmer of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and he was sentenced to 60 months’ imprisonment followed by three years’ supervised release. Farmer appealed, contending the evidence of his 2010 firearm possession should have been suppressed because the evidence was obtained in an unlawful search.

The Tenth Circuit examined the prior firearm possession charge, and determined that although Farmer had pled guilty to the possession charge, thereby waiving his right to appeal that charge, he did not waive the right to assert that the search was unlawful for other purposes. The Tenth Circuit found that it was error for the district court to rule that Farmer had waived his right to challenge the search by pleading guilty. However, it found that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Farmer’s defense at trial was that he did not know that the firearm was in the car. The government presented evidence that Farmer tried to distract the officer while he was searching the driver’s side of the car, muttered about the gun while the officer was searching, and tried to get his passenger to claim the gun as hers. These facts overwhelmingly support the conviction, regardless of the evidence of the prior conviction.

Farmer also argued the prosecutor’s closing remarks deprived him of a fair trial. During closing, the prosecutor made statements that the deputy had nothing to gain by planting a gun in Farmer’s car, which Farmer argued impermissibly vouched for the officer’s credibility. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding instead that the prosecutor was addressing the defense’s argument that the officer had planted the gun. The Tenth Circuit found that the prosecutor’s other remarks were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed Farmer’s conviction.

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