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United States v. Hall

decided: August 16, 1988.


Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 85 CR 815 -- Hubert L. Will, Senior District Judge.

Richard A. Posner, Frank H. Easterbrook, and Michael S. Kanne, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kanne

MICHAEL S. KANNE, Circuit Judge.

Andrea Hall and Richard Magnant were convicted of conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine. They*fn1 appeal from their conviction alleging that: (1) the district court improperly instructed the jury on a definition of "reasonable doubt;" (2) the trial court committed prejudicial error by instructing the jury that trial witnesses are assumed to speak the truth; (3) the government engaged in intentional misconduct by obtaining an affidavit which was allegedly "filed in camera;" and (4) the trial court erred in disallowing the impeachment of a non-testifying co-conspirator.

We find that under the circumstances of this case, the instructions given by the court did not prejudice the defendants. Moreover, because we agree with the district court's ruling with respect to the suppression of certain impeachment evidence and the admissibility of the affidavit filed by defendant Hall, we affirm the defendants' convictions.


Defendants Hall and Magnant, along with several other co-defendants, were indicted for participating in a conspiracy to distribute and sell cocaine. Hall and Magnant were ultimately convicted of possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute and distributing cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยง 846. The evidence at trial was that co-defendant Sam Sarcinelli headed a large drug distribution operation, obtaining cocaine in Florida and distributing it in California, Chicago, and New York. Co-defendant Larry Bradi, a former Chicago police officer, operated Sarcinelli's drug distribution business in Chicago. Hall was Bradi's girlfriend and an active participant in Bradi's organization. She made several telephone contacts and engaged in transactions involving cocaine. Specifically, Hall collected money and delivered the cocaine. In addition, Hall accompanied Bradi to Los Angeles to pick up cocaine from Sarcinelli. Hall also kept written records of the amounts of cocaine distributed to Bradi's dealers and the amounts of money received.

Magnant was also in Bradi's employ. It appears he was involved with the enforcement branch of the operation and in particular, with collecting a debt owed to Bradi by several of his sub-dealers. Magnant became a go-between between Bradi and his dealers. Magnant also accompanied another co-defendant to Los Angeles to obtain cocaine.


On appeal, Hall and Magnant do not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence against them. Rather, they seek a reversal of their convictions on the basis of several of the court's jury instructions. In addition, Hall and Magnant also challenge several of the court's rulings.

1. Reasonable Doubt Instruction

First, both defendants challenge the district court's use of its reasonable doubt instruction.*fn2 Citing United States v. Lawson, 507 F.2d 433 (7th Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 1004, 43 L. Ed. 2d 762, 95 S. Ct. 1446 (1975), Hall and Magnant argue that this court has said that "because of the problems of defining reasonable doubt," no instruction defining reasonable doubt should be given. Moreover, defendants state that in United States v. Martin-Trigona, 684 F.2d 485 (7th Cir. 1982) this court:

684 F.2d at 493 (citations omitted).

Hall and Magnant say that the district court not only impermissibly instructed on reasonable doubt, but in doing so, also watered down the constitutional requirements of reasonable doubt. They argue that the court's instruction equated reasonable doubt to fair doubt, thereby diminishing the constitutional requirement that a defendant be convicted only if each element has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Hall and Magnant maintain that the court's impermissible instruction mandates a reversal of their convictions.

In response, the government concedes that this court has indeed admonished the district courts not to define reasonable doubt. However, the government argues that we have never reversed a conviction simply because the trial court attempted to define reasonable doubt. Although, a reasonable doubt definition at some point may become so incomprehensible that it is prejudicial, the government argues that this is not the case here. In support of its argument, the government cites to a number of cases wherein this court has ruled that although the reasonable doubt instruction given was objectionable, no reversal was warranted. The government argues the instruction given in this instance does not rise to the level of those objectionable reasonable doubt instructions and, therefore, that no reversal is required here.

We have had numerous occasions to consider the propriety of instructing on a definition of reasonable doubt. In Lawson, supra, we held that the refusal to instruct on reasonable doubt even where an acceptable instruction has been offered, is not reversible error. In so ruling, this court reasoned that defining reasonable doubt is often more confusing than illuminating. 507 F.2d at 443. In United States v. Marquardt, 786 F.2d 771, 785 (7th Cir. 1986), in which we affirmed our decision in Lawson, we held that a failure to define reasonable doubt is not prejudicial. However, our rulings in Lawson ...

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