United States v. Berry

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 06-12-2012
  • Case #: 10-10361
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Rawlinson for the Court; Senior District Judge Hatter; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by Circuit Judge Tashima
  • Full Text Opinion

The district court does not err in denying a motion for acquittal or a new trial where prosecutorial misconduct and an improper jury instruction on the term "willfully" did not constitute grounds for reversal of the defendant’s conviction for social security fraud.

Ethan Berry was appointed as representative payee to receive social security benefits on his son’s behalf. Berry’s son did not receive any part of the lump sum or monthly payments that Berry received as his representative. Berry was later convicted of social security fraud under 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(5). Berry moved for acquittal and a new trial based on the prosecution’s misconduct during closing statements. The motions were denied and Berry appealed, arguing that reversal of his conviction was warranted because of the prosecutorial misconduct, on the grounds that § 408(a)(5) is constitutionally vague, and because the district court did not properly define “willfully” to the jury. The Ninth Circuit noted that while the prosecution made some “improper comments” during closing argument it did not warrant reversal. Further, the Court held that the district court’s instruction to the jury on “willfully” amounted to harmless error and that § 408(a)(5)’s meaning is unambiguous. Therefore, the Court held that the district court did not commit error when it denied Berry’s motions for acquittal and a new trial. AFFIRMED.

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