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UNITED STATES v. ESPOSITO

April 9, 1973

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ANTHONY ESPOSITO.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMILLEN, District Judge.

DECISION and ORDER

This case came on for a bench trial on the indictment of defendant for perjury under 18 U.S.C. § 1623. By means of a bill of particulars and a motion for acquittal at the close of the prosecution's case, the issue has been reduced to whether or not defendant knowingly testified falsely when he gave the following answers under oath in the criminal trial of Edward Speice:

    Q. Now, did you ever drive in an automobile
  from the Hyatt House to the Thirsty Whale
  accompanied by Edward Speice?

A. No, I haven't.

    Q. Do you recall whether or not you have ever
  seen Edward Speice at the Thirsty Whale?

A. No, I haven't.

Q. You have not or you don't recall it?

A. I don't believe I have ever seen him there.

These questions and answers afford a timely and interesting application of the recent Supreme Court decision in Bronston v. United States, 409 U.S. 352, 93 S.Ct. 595, 34 L.Ed.2d 568 (1973), decided under the similar provision of 18 U.S.C. § 1621. The rule in that decision, although not new, makes it incumbent to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant both literally and as a matter of substance lied under oath.

A close examination of the questions and answers quoted above convinces the court that the defendant did not commit this offense within the meaning of Bronston, and that the questioner had the duty to make the question and answer unambiguously specific if it was to support a charge of perjury. It should be noted in passing that the questions contained in the indictment were being posed by an attorney for a defendant, but that the government had an opportunity to cross-examine. As the court pointed out in Bronston at 93 S.Ct. 602:

  Precise questioning is imperative as a predicate
  for the offense of perjury.

The answer to the first question, "did you ever drive an automobile from the Hyatt House to the Thirsty Whale accompanied by Edward Speice?", was not proved to be false in substance. The evidence showed that defendant probably drove from the Hyatt House alone and picked up a passenger en route to the Thirsty Whale. There is no testimony that defendant had any passenger on leaving the Hyatt House, although he was observed in that act by at least two government agents. His answer was literally true and therefore not perjurious under Bronston at 93 S.Ct. 601.

We have not overlooked two other possible defects in this question and answer. One is the contention that the question was so broad as to be immaterial. The other is that the answer is not responsive. As indicated at the time of trial, we believe the question was material because it covered the date of the alleged transaction and contributed to the defense of Edward Speice. The unresponsiveness is a matter of grammar rather than substance, in our opinion, and constitutes a negative answer to the question. But, as indicated above, a negative answer was literally true, so far as the evidence in this case shows.

The second question did result in an unresponsive answer which was therefore ambiguous. Thus its literal untruthfulness cannot be determined. Since the answer was ambiguous, and at most answered a question which had not been asked, the defendant cannot be found guilty of perjury ...


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