Friday, September 17, 2004

Courtroom Threat

Michaelangelo Conte, "Baby murder defendant threatens 'snitch' witness in court,"The New Jersey Journal A8 (Sept. 17, 2004):
Jurors were walking from the courtroom when Alvarado [the defendant in a murder trial] turned to prosecution witness Francisco Escribaro [a former cellmate of the the defendant], raised [Escribaro's] written statement in [defendant's] hand, and said, "I am going to make sure people in jail read this because you are a (expletive) snitch."

...

[Trial judge] Nelson told the jury that sometimes attorneys or other participants involved in a trial get excited or angry.

"If it happened in this trial and you heard it, you have to disregard it," he said. "Next week if it's still in the back of your mind, it can play no part in your decision. Everyone understand that?"

But cf. United States v. Mickens et al., 926 F.2d 1323 (2nd Cir. 1991)(held, admission of defendant's courtroom threat against former attorney was not error):
Defendant-appellant Mickens challenges the district court's decision to permit Mickens' former attorney to testify that Mickens had made a hand gesture in the shape of a gun as the former attorney entered the courtroom to testify. Mickens argues that this testimony lacked probative value and that the former attorney's testimony that Mickens had pointed at the court, not at the attorney, was unduly prejudicial. This challenge lacks merit.

...

[T]he standards for admission of Rule 404(b) evidence were satisfied. The testimony about the hand gesture was not offered to prove Mickens' bad character or criminal propensity, but rather to prove his consciousness of guilt. ... The testimony was relevant since an effort to intimidate a key prosecution witness was probative of Mickens' state of mind. ...

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