United States v. Evans

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 08-27-2013
  • Case #: 11-30367; 11-30369
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Paez for the Court; Circuit Judge Fisher, Dissent by Circuit Judge Gould
  • Full Text Opinion

A district court may not exclude a critical element of a defense based only upon Fed. R. Evid. 104, as excluding that evidence without a substantive basis violates a defendant’s right to present a defense.

Joseph Evans, Sr. requested a delayed birth certificate from the State of Idaho in April 2010, which issued in May 2010, and stated Evans was born in Lapwai, Idaho. After Evans applied for a passport, an investigation opened due to discrepancies in the application. Evans was indicted in November 2010 for being an alien in the United States after deportation, and in February 2011 for misrepresenting his identity to obtain government benefits and apply for a passport. The district court held an evidentiary hearing after Evans attempted to introduce his birth certificate, and granted the prosecution’s Motion to Preclude Evidence after testimony from three witnesses questioning the legitimacy of Evans’ claimed identity. Evans was found guilty by a second jury after a mistrial because the first jury could not reach a verdict. The Ninth Circuit held the district court erred in using the “gate-keeping” authority under Fed. R. Evid. 104(a), and by not relying on a substantive basis beyond that rule to exclude the birth certificate. The panel addressed the district court’s characterization of the birth certificate as lacking substantive genuineness under Rule 104(b), and found that the district court inappropriately weighed the credibility of witnesses against a state document. The panel then evaluated the district court’s reliance on Rule 403, and found the district court committed legal error by substituting its judgment for the jury as to the believability of the evidence. The court concluded the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by any of the factors in Rule 403. As a result, the panel found the exclusion of the birth certificate violated Evan’s due process right to present a defense, and was not a harmless error. VACATED and REMANDED.

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