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4th Circuit on bolstering, Batson

A Richmond federal prosecutor crossed a line during closing argument in a weapons trial when she told the jury that two government witnesses “told the truth,” the 4th Circuit says. Federal precedent says it is improper for a prosecutor to vouch for or bolster testimony of a government witness by offering a personal belief in the witness’s credibility.

Defendant Orillion Craddock alleged prosecutorial misconduct based on several comments. The panel found no fault with comments that Craddock’s cousin testified against him, even though he “had some reason to fear Mr. Craddock,” and that Craddock’s former jail mate testified even though he knew he would be labeled a “snitch.”

But with her statement the witnesses “told the truth,” the prosecutor ventured into “vouching” territory. She “did not merely ask the jury to find the witnesses’ testimony credible; she clearly and unequivocally stated they were telling the truth,” the panel said in its unpublished opinion of Feb. 11.

Alas for poor Orillion, the panel said nevertheless there was plenty of evidence to convict. Both Craddock’s cousin and his grandmother watched him saw off a shotgun in grandma’s attic and in her dining room.

And here’s more fodder for the Batson file. In a case out of Norfolk federal court, the 4th Circuit ruled on an African-American drug defendant’s Batson challenge to the prosecution’s strike of three out of eight African-American jurors against the defendant’s statistical challenge in its unpublished opinion in U.S. v. Barrington. The government proffered a non-discriminatory reason for each strike: one female juror was sleeping, another female juror because of her demeanor and disinterested appearance, a third female juror had a family member who was a drug addict. The district court did not accept the strike of a fourth female juror, based on her job at a rental car company. The appellate panel upheld defendant’s conviction.
By Deborah Elkins

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