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United States v. Taylor

May 14, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DARRYL TAYLOR, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 08 cr 39 SEB KPF-Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

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

ARGUED APRIL 21, 2010

Before CUDAHY, RIPPLE, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

In 2009, Darryl Taylor was convicted of armed robbery, attempted armed robbery and two separate counts of brandishing a short-barreled shotgun in relation to two crimes of violence. He was sentenced to 444 months' imprisonment. In the present appeal, Mr. Taylor contends that the district court committed reversible error in denying his offering of the testimony of one Dale Serie. Mr. Serie served as a pastor on Sundays at the Volunteers of America, which is a halfway house where Mr. Taylor resided pending trial. The defendant, expressing a desire to take the stand in his own defense, wished to offer Mr. Serie's testimony as to his reputation for truthfulness. This was a curious goal, since the defendant at trial argued that he had lied in his earlier confession to the police. Presumably, then, evidence of his renown for veracity would bolster the prosecution's case. Nevertheless, Mr. Taylor represented to the court that Mr. Serie's testimony would go to his honesty in taking the stand, rather than to statements he made at the time of the offense. The district court then conditioned Mr. Serie's taking the stand on the defendant's actually testifying. Ultimately, the defendant elected not to testify and so the defense rested without the benefit of Mr. Serie's testimony. We find no error in the district court's evidentiary ruling. Since Mr. Serie's testimony was to be limited to bolstering the defendant's own testimony, the former was irrelevant in the absence of the latter. This fact was correctly noted by the district court. Even if the court had erred in so ruling, however, a veritable mountain of evidence as to the defendant's guilt rendered any such error harmless. For these reasons and the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 30, 2007, two men, one of whom was later determined to be Darryl Taylor, entered a Speedway convenience store in Indiana, wearing dark clothing and wielding firearms, which included a sawn-off shotgun. Although the police received a 911 call concerning the robbery, the two individuals made off with $150 and some cigarettes. Presumably not satisfied with this bountiful take, Mr. Taylor entered a Village Pantry Store the following evening, again carrying a sawn-off shotgun. A quick-thinking employee darted for the exit and ran to a nearby fire station, where he called 911.

Although Mr. Taylor had left the scene by the time the police arrived, officers pulled over a green Saturn station wagon that had run a red light. After a brief chase, the driver jumped out of the car and ran away while the vehicle was still moving. He escaped. The police discovered Mr. Taylor sitting in the front passenger seat and noticed a sawn-off shotgun protruding from the back seat. A further search revealed a variety of paraphernalia, including two dark-knit caps, sunglasses and other items of clothing consistent with what the suspects involved in the Speedway and Village Pantry Store robberies had worn. The search also uncovered a .38 handgun. At the scene of the traffic stop, the Village Pantry Store employee who had run to call the police identified Mr. Taylor as the armed robber who had attempted to hold up the store earlier that night.

In the early hours of October 2, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department interviewed Mr. Taylor at the department's robbery unit. Having received a Miranda warning and waived his rights, Mr. Taylor confessed to being the individual who attempted to rob and robbed the Village Pantry Store and Speedway convenience store, respectively. He admitted using a sawn-off shot- gun and said that his accomplice had used the handgun. However, he disclaimed any knowledge as to the identity of the second robber of the Speedway store or the driver of the Saturn. In addition to obtaining this confession, the police acquired surveillance footage from both stores, which suggested that Mr. Taylor was indeed the robber.

Pending trial, Mr. Taylor resided at a half-way house, the Volunteers of America. While there, the defendant attended Sunday evening religious services, which were overseen by Dale Serie in his capacity as a lay pastor.

In his opening statement at trial, the defendant argued through his attorney that the evidence would show that he was at his sister's house at the time of the Speedway robbery. He maintained that, on the day of the attempted robbery of the Village Pantry Store, he had encountered an individual whom he knew only as "Black." The evidence would further show that Black encouraged the defendant to join him on a trip to see some female friends. When they arrived at a location near the Village Pantry Store-the defendant argued- Black left and returned a short time later in an agitated state. The two men then left in the Saturn, upon which time they were pulled over by the police. The defendant further submitted that the evidence would show that he was in fear for his life.

In presenting the defense's evidence, Mr. Taylor called his two sisters, both of whom testified that the defendant had been at his sister's apartment on the evening of the Speedway robbery. The defendant then sought to introduce the testimony of Mr. Serie as to the former's propensity for truthfulness. A hearsay objection immediately followed and Judge Barker called both counsel to the bench. The court quickly made clear its skepticism to Mr. Serie's testifying to the defendant's character, observing that the witness knew him for merely a single year and had never met him prior to the robberies with which he had been charged. The court expressed uncertainty as to the relevance of any character testimony going to Mr. Taylor's reputation for truthfulness during the last year. In response to the defendant's assertion that he was going to ask the witness "as to whether Darryl Taylor is a truthful person," the court disagreed, stating that "[y]ou can't ask that, Counsel. That is not character evidence." The following exchange then took place:

Mr. McKinley: Your Honor, my client's character and his propensity for truthfulness is always an issue. I submit that his opinion concerning Mr. Taylor's propensity for truth and veracity is relevant and it would be . . .

The Court: How is it relevant? You're just saying that. You have to link it for me. I don't see the relevance. That's why I have you up here.

Mr. McKinley: Your honor, my client is-it's my understanding my client is going to take the stand. Clearly his ...


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