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United States v. Greschner

decided: April 21, 1981.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN ANDREW GRESCHNER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT .



Appeal from the United States District Court of the Southern District of Illinois, Benton Division. No. 80 CR 40021 -- James L. Foreman, Judge .

Before Swygert and Sprecher, Circuit Judges, and Marshall, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Sprecher

This case involves the stabbing of a prisoner in a United States prison by another prisoner. The defendant was convicted of assault and of conveying a weapon within the prison. The defendant appeals certain evidentiary rulings regarding the assault charge and raises arguments concerning sufficiency of the evidence and double jeopardy regarding the conveying charge. We reverse both convictions.

I

On November 18, 1979, John Andrew Greschner and John Henry Logan were inmates at the United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois. Greschner was a resident of the control unit. Logan was in the control unit, cutting Greschner's hair.

At some point while Logan was cutting Greschner's hair, a fight developed between the two. Greschner swung at Logan. During the fight, Greschner was seen holding a homemade knife in his hand. A correctional officer stopped the fight. Logan was taken to the hospital with multiple stab wounds. Greschner had no wounds.

At trial, Greschner represented himself and presented a defense of self-defense. Defense witnesses testified that Logan attacked Greschner with a knife and that another inmate gave Greschner a knife, that he then used in self-defense. Greschner was convicted on both the assault, 18 U.S.C. 113(f), and conveying, 18 U.S.C. 1792, charges and was sentenced to ten years on each charge.

II

The defendant argues that certain evidentiary rulings of the trial court deprived him of the opportunity to present his defense adequately. The defendant attempted to present a theory of self-defense. The law allows such a theory. See generally Strong, The Predicates of Criminal Liability, 1980 Wis.L.Rev. 441. In presenting his defense, the defendant sought to prove that Logan had a character trait for violence and that Logan had a motive for attacking the defendant. The trial court excluded evidence on each issue.

A

First, the defendant attempted to present evidence that Logan previously had stabbed another inmate. The government objected on grounds of relevancy. The trial court upheld the objection.

To determine whether the proffered line of inquiry was relevant to the defendant's case, we begin by reviewing Fed.R.Evid. 401, which provides as follows:

"Relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

As the Advisory Committee's Note indicates, the standard of probability is not stringent. The standard for relevancy is only that the evidence would make the existence of the fact "more probable." As Professor McCormick has stated, "(a) brick is not a wall." ...


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