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United States v. Sanders

January 18, 2007


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


A. Introduction and Procedural History

Indicted by the United States ("the Government") in December 2005 on two firearm charges and having been declared competent in June 2006, DeAngelo Sanders filed a series of pretrial motions, including a motion to suppress (Doc. 35), motions in limine (Docs. 36, 37), and a motion seeking sanctions for discovery violations (Doc. 62). Briefing was completed by August 2, 2006, and the Court conducted an evidentiary hearing two weeks later. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court denied the suppression motion, denied the motion for sanctions, took one motion in limine under advisement, and partially granted/partially denied the other motion in limine (Doc. 75).

Both parties filed additional motions -- Sanders' motion in limine (Doc. 81), Sanders' motion to continue trial (Doc. 90), and the Government's motion to quash subpoena (Doc. 92). The Court ruled on those motions, plus the motion in limine previously taken under advisement, on October 10, 2006 (Doc. 96).

A four-day jury trial commenced October 16, 2006 and culminated in October 19, 2006 guilty verdicts on both charges.

Sanders timely moved for a new trial*fn1 , and the parties have fully briefed the issues (see Docs. 110, 111, 113, 114). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Sanders' new trial motion.

B. Analysis

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 governs motions for new trial. Rule33 provides that, upon a defendant's motion, "the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Three months ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit explained: "A defendant is entitled to a new trial if there is a reasonable possibility that a trial error had a prejudicial effect upon the jury's verdict." United States v. Van Eyl, 468 F.3d 428, 436 (7th Cir. 2006), citing United States v. Berry, 92 F.3d 597, 600 (7th Cir. 1996).*fn2

The district court may consider the credibility of the witnesses in making this determination. United States v. Washington, 184 F.3d 653, 657 (7th Cir. 1999). But the district court may notreweigh the evidence or set aside the verdict just because the court "feels some other result would be more reasonable." United States v. Reed, 875 F.2d 107, 113 (7th Cir. 1989).Rather, the evidence must preponderate so heavily against the verdict that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand. Id.

As to motions for new trial, the Seventh Circuit has warned: "Courts are to grant them sparingly and with caution, doing so only in those really 'exceptional cases.'" Id. Accord United States v. DePriest, 6 F.3d 1201, 1216 (7th Cir. 1993)(motions for new trial must be approached with great caution, and judges should be wary of second-guessing determinations of juries).

In the instant case, Sanders asserts that a new trial is warranted because the Court erred in ruling inadmissible a letter detailing Sanders' medical history. The letter in question was sent to Sanders from Lisa Sunderman, Regional Counsel for the Bureau of Prisons, in August 2006. Defense counsel maintains that the exclusion of this evidence deprived Sanders of "what may have been the sole witness on Sanders' behalf.

The Sunderman letter discussed the results of blood work done on Sanders in late January 2006 (upon his entry in to the BOP system) and indicated that, at that time, Sanders had been on the prescription medication Dilantin. Sanders contends that the fact he recently had taken Dilantin (an anti-seizure medication): (a) "would have allowed the jury to infer that [his] claims of seizures were not recent fabrications," and (b) would have helped to explain the circumstances of Sanders' confessions (Doc. 111, pp. 2-3).*fn3

Sanders further argues that the Department of Justice's possession of his blood sample (from the BOP intake process) was relevant to defense arguments about an untested dried reddish material found on the shotgun in question (Doc. 110, p. 2). Specifically, Sanders theorizes that if the jury knew that the Government not only found a dried red material on the shotgun but also possessed a sample of Sanders' blood with which to compare it, "the protracted deliberations of the jury might well have turned out differently" (Doc. 111, p. 3).

Reduced to simplest terms, Sanders believes a new trial is warranted, because the undersigned Judge employed too restrictive an interpretation of hearsay and relevance rules (id). The record does not ...

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