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United States v. Brodnicki

February 15, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JACK BRODNICKI, ALSO KNOWN AS JACEK LIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 06 CR 459-John W. Darrah, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 18, 2008

Before BAUER, WILLIAMS, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

Defendant-Appellant Jack Brodnicki was in the business of creating false social security cards and other identification documents. In July of 2006, Brodnicki was indicted on charges of transferring a false identification document and attempting to possess with intent to unlawfully transfer five or more false identification documents, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028(a)(2), (a)(3), and (f). A jury found Brodnicki guilty on both counts. On appeal, Brodnicki claims that the district court judge, John W. Darrah, abused his discretion during voir dire. Specifically, Brodnicki contends that Judge Darrah erred by failing to excuse potential jurors Varno and Stompanato after they expressed concern regarding their abilities to be impartial jurors. Brodnicki also argues that Judge Darrah abused his discretion in excusing potential juror Lane for cause when he expressed an inability to be impartial. Brodnicki claims that these errors skewed the jury selection so substantially that his due process rights were violated. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

A. Potential Juror Varno

During voir dire, Varno disclosed that her brother-in-law lost his son as the result of a car accident in which "a cop hit him on his driver's side." The accident resulted in a lawsuit, which remained unresolved at the time of her call to jury duty on Brodnicki's case. Judge Darrah asked Varno, "Is there anything about that experience particularly as you-as it would have been related to you by your brother-in-law that has left you with any ill feelings regarding the justice system or the court system?" Varno responded that there was, to which Judge Darrah inquired whether any of those feelings would affect her ability to be fair and impartial in Brodnicki's case. Varno said, "I hope not." The following dialogue ensued:

The Court: Well we use words like "I hope not" and "I believe so" in polite company, but it would be your sworn obligation to decide this case based simply on what's presented here in this room, and both parties are entitled to that. Could you do that?

Prospective Juror Varno: Honestly, I don't think so.

The Court: You think you might favor one side over the other here?

Prospective Juror Varno: I'm not sure. I'm sorry.

The Court: Well, no, you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, and that is discussing with us things in your life that may affect your ability to be open-minded here. But, Miss Yarno [sic], if you were called to serve as a juror you would hear the testimony of the witnesses and look at the exhibits, and then you and the other jurors would have to determine the truth, the facts of this case. In doing that, you'd have to set aside anything that would interfere with your ability to be fair and open-minded. Could you do that?

Prospective Juror Varno: I think so.

The Court: Okay. And when you say "I think so," it would be your sworn obligation to do that. Could you do that?

Prospective Juror Varno: Yes.

(Tr. Vol. 1 at 18-21).

At the end of the first jury panel's questioning, Judge Darrah called a side-bar to discuss challenges. Brodnicki's attorney moved to strike Varno for cause on the basis of her initial responses to Judge Darrah's questions, but Judge Darrah denied the motion, stating: "That's denied. She assured me that she would be fair and impartial." Brodnicki's attorney used one of his ten peremptory strikes to exclude potential juror Varno, and Varno was excused.

B. Potential Juror Stompanato

Potential juror Stompanato informed Judge Darrah during voir dire that her uncle worked at the Pentagon for many years. Judge Darrah explained to Stompanato that the federal government was a party to the lawsuit at hand and asked Stompanato whether her uncle's employment with the federal government could cause her to side with one party or the other. Stompanato responded, "I would definitely say I'm more ...


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