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United States v. McGuire

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

December 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RYAN MCGUIRE, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

          SUSAN P. WATTERS, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         The Defendant, Ryan McGuire, has filed a motion for a new trial in this matter. (Doc. 91.) The Court denies McGuire's motion.

         I. Background

         After a two-day trial, a jury found McGuire guilty of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and distribution of methamphetamine. (Docs. 77, 80.) McGuire timely filed a motion for a new trial (Doc. 91), and that motion is now ripe. McGuire states there are two bases for the Court granting his motion. (Doc. 92 at 2.)

         First, McGuire argues the Court erred by sustaining an objection the Government made to admitting testimony McGuire's trial counsel attempted to illicit from Agent Joseph Osborne. McGuire's trial counsel planned to ask Agent Osborne about a statement one of McGuire's coconspirators, Angela Killen, made purportedly identifying a different individual as the one who supplied the meth for the undercover buy that led to McGuire's charges. The Government objected on hearsay grounds, and the Court sustained the objection. (Id.)

         Second, McGuire argues the Court erred by granting the Government's motion to compel McGuire to roll up his left sleeve during trial and display his tattoos to a witness for identification purposes. (Id. at 7-10.) Upon seeing McGuire the morning of trial, the Government alleged he had substantially changed his appearance since the time of his arrest. The Government therefore moved to compel McGuire to display the tattoos on his left arm and hands to witnesses and the jury. The Court granted the Government's motion and required McGuire to display the tattoos on his left arm to the Government's first witness, Special Agent Christopher Cavanaugh. After seeing the tattoos, Special Agent Cavanaugh was able to positively identify McGuire. McGuire contends (as he did at trial) that the Court's ruling violated his Fifth Amendment rights and his right to present a defense. (Id.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Crim. P. 33 governs motions for new trials and authorizes the Court, upon the defendant's motion, to "vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." The Court's discretion when granting a motion for a new trial is much broader than when granting a motion for judgment of acquittal. United States v. A. Lanoy Alston, D.M.D., P.C, 974 F.2d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 1992). "The district court need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict; it may weigh the evidence and in so doing evaluate for itself the credibility of the witnesses." United States v. Lincoln, 630 F.2d 1313, 1319 (8th Cir. 1980).

         III. Discussion

         1. The Government's hearsay objection.

         Hearsay is "a statement that: (1) the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing; and (2) a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement." Fed.R.Evid. 801(c). Hearsay is inadmissible unless the Federal Rules of Evidence, a federal statute, or another rule prescribed by the Supreme Court provide otherwise. Fed.R.Evid. 802.

         Angela Killen's statements to law enforcement are (and were) hearsay. McGuire attempted to admit Angela Killen's statements through Agent Osborne to prove the truth of the matter asserted-that is, another individual provided the meth during the undercover buy, not McGuire. However, McGuire asserts two reasons for why the Court should have admitted the hearsay: first, the Government's objection unlawfully suppressed exculpatory evidence; second, the Court's refusal to admit the hearsay statements violated McGuire's right of due process of law. (Doc. 92 at 4-7.)

         McGuire relies on Benn v. Lambert, 283 F.3d 1040, 1052-53 (9th Cir. 2002) in support of his first argument. His reliance is misplaced. In Benn, the 9th Circuit affirmed a district court's decision to grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus because state prosecutors had failed to disclose critical evidence favorable to the petitioner-i.e., Brady material under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Nothing of the sort happened here, and McGuire does not allege the Government failed to turn over exculpatory evidence. McGuire plainly had access to Angela Killen's statements. Benn and Brady are irrelevant.

         For his second argument, McGuire relies on Chambers v. Mississippi,410 U.S. 284 (1973). Like his reliance on Benn, McGuire's reliance on Chambers is misplaced. In Chambers, after Chambers was arrested for murder, another individual, McDonald, made but later repudiated a written confession to the crime. Id. at 288-89. On three separate occasions, McDonald also confessed to the murder in private conversations with friends. Id. Chambers proceeded to trial, but when Chambers called McDonald to testify, the trial court prevented him from cross-examining McDonald about the confessions because, under Mississippi's voucher rule, he could not impeach his own ...


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