Thursday, October 22, 2009

Restrictions on cross-examination warrant new trial

Ron Wurtz, federal PD, won in U.S. v. Robinson, No. 08-3180 (10th Cir. Oct. 20, 2009), obtaining a new trial in a federal felon in possession prosecution. The issue prompting reversal was failure to allow access to an informant's medical records and prohibition on questioning the informant about mental health history:
Six days before Robinson’s trial, the government’s star witness—the CI who purchased the gun from Robinson—was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. The district court reviewed the CI’s medical files in camera but refused defense counsel access to them. It also precluded defense counsel from asking the CI any questions about his mental health history or his use of prescription medications. Robinson was subsequently convicted of violating of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2) and sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment.

We must decide if the district court’s refusal to provide Robinson access to the CI’s medical records contravened due process and whether the court’s limitations on cross-examination of the CI violated the Sixth Amendment. We answer both questions in the affirmative.
A majority of the panel held that the errors were not harmless and therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial.

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