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United States v. Woods

decided: August 17, 1966.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JOHN WOODS, APPELLANT



Staley, Chief Judge, and McLaughlin and Smith, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mclaughlin

Opinion OF THE COURT

McLAUGHLIN, Circuit Judge.

Appellant John Woods, with a codefendant, was tried on a twelve count indictment charging violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 1010 which deals with the falsification of Federal Housing Administration applications. On June 15, 1965, the jury returned verdicts of guilty on counts 5, 7, 10 and 11b. This appeal from that conviction most competently argues what are in effect two grounds for reversal. The first is that the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain that conviction; the second urges that the trial judge abused his discretion in refusing to permit counsel for the defendant to interrogate the jurors individually.

The judge in his opinion, 246 F. Supp. 712 (1965), denying defendants' motions for acquittal and new trial, went into the sufficiency of evidence problem at length, citing numerous references to testimony and other evidence. Clearly, there were adequate proofs before the jury on which that body could have and did base its verdict.

The issue of whether or not the trial judge abused his discretion in the conduct of the voir dire does require some exploration. We are dealing with Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Pursuant to this the court has discretion whether it will examine the prospective jurors or permit the defendant or his attorney and the attorney for the government to do so. If the court examines, the rule states that it "* * * shall permit the defendant or his attorney and the attorney for the government to supplement the examination by such further inquiry as it deems proper or shall itself submit to the prospective jurors such additional questions by the parties or their attorneys as it deems proper."

In the case at bar the judge, who presided over the entire voir dire examination, chose to conduct the interrogation through his clerk in accordance with the practice of the particular district. Defense counsel requested permission to "* * * question the jurors individually on the voir dire to determine their family status, their occupations, and that of the immediate members of their families, as well as certain other questions which the Court has approved but only for general question rather than individual question." The government joined in that motion. The judge ruled, "The Court will not permit any individual interrogation of jurors, but appropriate questions may be framed to ask of the entire panel covering the points that have been mentioned, that are relevant to this case." Seemingly the trial court did not feel that the expenditure of the time which would be taken up by a full voir dire inquiry initially for each individual was warranted in this trial. The court, however, did indicate that the defense would be given reasonable opportunity to have proper inquiries made of panel members. This is evidenced by the following dialogue between defense counsel and the court:

"Mr. Libenson: Off the record, may I ask the Court how we are going to get -- I mean write down the answers to the general questions? Is this going to be by the show of hands? For instance, if you ask if they own their own home.

"The Court: If any of them answer affirmatively, then we can consider whether any further questions should be asked of that individual.

"Mr. Libenson: Oh, well, then, that is --

"The Court: If they all say they did not have any dealings with the F.H.A., then we will take it that they haven't.

"Mr. Libenson: I see.

"The Court: But if somebody has, then if we think it proper to go into what that dealing was, as bearing on the fitness to serve as a juror, that should be followed up. But if the answers are all negative then we won't go further."

And as the court stated in its opinion, p. 716, it "* * * permitted all questions desired by counsel to be asked." The transcript itself is laden with numerous instances wherein individual examination was had and as a result of some of the answers challenges for cause granted. There was not a single occasion where appellant offered a specific question and was denied the right to have it put to the array or a member thereof. In the light of the above we cannot hold that appellant was denied opportunity to interrogate prospective jurors in an effort to determine possible prejudice upon which challenges could be based. Though appellant correctly cites our United States v. Napoleone, 3 Cir., 349 F.2d 350 (1965) ...


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