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Defendant’s stipulation may be enforced in later trial

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 6, 2023

Defendant’s stipulation may be enforced in later trial

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 6, 2023

In an issue of first impression, the court joined other circuits that have unanimously concluded that a district court may enforce in a later trial a stipulation entered into in an earlier trial, unless the stipulation was expressly limited to the first proceeding.


Christopher Robertson was indicted on 22 counts of robbery-related activity and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Before a jury could return a verdict in Robertson’s original trial, it was deemed a mistrial. Before a retrial, at Robertson’s request, the district court severed Robertson’s charges into two trials. Both trials resulted in guilty verdicts on all counts.


Robertson initially asserts that the district court erred by enforcing in the retrial a stipulation that the parties entered into before his first trial.

This court has not previously considered the question now before it — whether a stipulation made before a previous trial can be binding in a later trial. Having reviewed the parties’ arguments on this issue, the court joins other circuits that have unanimously concluded that a district court may enforce in a later trial a stipulation entered into in an earlier trial.

The most important factor to consider is “the parties’ intention to limit or not limit a stipulation to only one proceeding.” So, “a stipulation does not continue to bind the parties if they expressly limited it to the first proceeding or if the parties intended the stipulation to apply only at the first trial.” But where the stipulation was “an open-ended concession of liability without limitation to the ensuing trial,” there is no reason to relieve a party from an earlier-made stipulation in a later proceeding.

Here, nothing in the stipulation’s language limited its applicability to the first trial. The parties entered into an open-ended stipulation in which they both agreed that Robertson’s alleged robberies affected commerce. That Robertson later regretted entering into the stipulation is not sufficient to relieve him of its continuing effect.


Robertson next argues that the district court erred by denying his motions for a judgment of acquittal because there was insufficient evidence to support his convictions. There was sufficient evidence supporting Robertson’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Robertson stipulated that he was previously convicted of a felony and knew of his status as a felon. And Robertson does not argue that the firearm possession did not affect commerce.

As to the possession element, the relevant firearm was purchased by Robertson’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, Jones. It was found in the home of another one of his girlfriends and the mother of his child, in a room where Robertson kept other belongings. Further, police recovered a bullet from Robertson’s pocket with identical markings as the bullets found in the firearm. This is sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Robertson constructively possessed the firearm.

Robertson argues that there was insufficient evidence that he participated in the robberies. He contends that his coconspirators’ testimony should have been disregarded because they were not credible. These arguments all must fail because “[t]he jury, not the reviewing court, weighs the credibility of the evidence and resolves any conflicts in the evidence presented.”

As the district court thoroughly explained, Robertson’s coconspirators — particularly Ellison — described each of the robberies and summarized Robertson’s role in them. Accepting that testimony as true, as the court must in reviewing a motion for judgment of acquittal, a reasonable juror could find Robertson guilty of the robberies beyond a reasonable doubt.

Jury instructions

Robertson also argues that the district court abused its discretion by utilizing certain jury instructions that he and the government jointly proposed to the court. But this court “fail[s] to see how the trial court abused its discretion based on [an] allegedly prejudicial instruction when [Robertson] asked for it and thus invited the error.”

Speedy trial

Robertson finally argues that the district court violated his speedy trial rights by holding his retrial more than 70 days after his mistrial. Although Robertson stated multiple times that he wished to be tried as soon as possible, however, he never moved for a dismissal prior to trial based on a speedy trial violation. In fact, even when prompted, Robertson never objected to the district court’s trial schedule. Accordingly, Robertson waived his right to assert a speedy trial violation.


United States v. Robertson, Case No. 21-4438, May 23, 2023. 4th Cir. (Agee), from EDVA at Newport News (Novak). Fernando Groene for Appellant. Jacqueline Romy Bechara for Appellee. VLW 023-2-136. 15 pp.

VLW 023-2-136

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