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United States v. Small

decided: May 20, 1971.


Seitz, Adams and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Rosenn


ROSENN, Circuit Judge.

This appeal is from the District Court's denial of appellant's motions for a new trial and for acquittal following his conviction by a jury of armed bank robbery and conspiracy.*fn1 Appellant was tried alone.

One of the Government's chief witnesses was Edward Kenneth Small, Jr., an alleged accomplice, who had pled guilty and been sentenced prior to appellant's trial. According to the Government, it was Small and appellant who had committed the robbery on February 11, 1969.*fn2 Small's testimony was central to the Government's case, since appellant had allegedly worn a ski mask during the robbery and no other witness was able to place him at the scene.

During Small's direct examination, the prosecutor alluded extensively to a written statement implicating appellant which Small had given to the FBI on January 18, 1970. Small referred to it several times. Upon inquiry by the Court following redirect examination, however, Small completely repudiated the statement.*fn3 Nevertheless, the statement was admitted into evidence at the conclusion of the Government's case in chief, and was submitted to the jury as substantive evidence of the facts asserted therein.*fn4

At trial, the Government urged the substantive use of Small's statement on the basis of California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 90 S. Ct. 1930, 26 L. Ed. 2d 489 (1970). In this Court, the Government has rightly abandoned its position that Green is controlling*fn5 and has instead argued from a policy point of view: "The substantive use of a prior inconsistent statement was properly permitted because the dangers against which the hearsay rule is designed to protect are largely non-existent where the witness testifies at trial."

The Government's view has received much support from scholars and commentators*fn6 and is embodied in the new Proposed Federal Rules of Evidence at Rule 801.*fn7 The "orthodox" majority view, however, is that "prior self-contradictions are not to be treated as having any substantive or independent testimonial value."*fn8 (Emphasis in original.) As the Supreme Court observed in Bridges v. Wixon, supra, footnote 9:

We may assume [prior inconsistent statements] would be admissible for purposes of impeachment. But they certainly would not be admissible in any criminal case as substantive evidence. (Citations omitted). So to hold would allow men to be convicted on unsworn testimony of witnesses -- a practice which runs counter to the notions of fairness on which our legal system is founded. (Footnotes omitted; emphasis supplied).

An exception to the orthodox rule has been carved out by the Second Circuit in United States v. DeSisto, 329 F.2d 929 (1964), in which Judge Friendly, observing that "we do not think the Supreme Court [in Bridges v. Wixon] meant to require rigid adherence to the much criticized orthodox rule in the situation here presented,"*fn9 allowed the substantive use of prior inconsistent sworn testimony before a grand jury or at a previous trial. While we express no view as to whether this circuit ought to adopt the exception in DeSisto, we note that the exception is a limited one. As Judge Friendly later observed in Taylor v. Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co., 344 F.2d 281, 283 (2d Cir. 1965):

We went no further [in DeSisto ] because we entertained doubts both as to whether we could, see Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135, 153-154, 65 S. Ct. 1443, 89 L. Ed. 2103 * * * and as to whether, having in mind the ease of putting thoughts into the minds of prospective witnesses, we should.*fn10

This court had occasion to consider the substantive use of prior inconsistent statements in United States v. Schwartz, 390 F.2d 1 (3d Cir. 1968), a tax evasion case. The defendant Schwartz was counsel for the corporate taxpayer. The chief government witness was one Bregman, the corporation's president, who had previously been convicted and sentenced on the same charge. Two days prior to his sentencing, in an effort to obtain a light sentence, Bregman had submitted to the trial judge a statement placing the responsibility for the illegal acts upon Schwartz and disclaiming any personal knowledge thereof. At Schwartz' trial, however, Bregman seemed to indicate that either he or one of his corporate associates was to blame, and not Schwartz. After pleading surprise, the prosecution was allowed to introduce Bregman's prior statement, and the jury was permitted to consider it, as proof of the matters asserted therein. In its opinion denying defendant's post-trial motions,*fn11 the trial court reasoned that this procedure was proper under three principles "underlying the hearsay rule and the exceptions to that rule. * * *"*fn12, (1) the principle of necessity (Bregman was apparently very ill and was somewhat rambling, evasive, and contradictory in his testimony); (2) the availability of cross-examination; and (3) certain guarantees of trustworthiness surrounding the preparation of the statement (including the facts that (a) since it was prepared by Bregman's attorney, it must have been drafted carefully, (b) Bregman admitted on the stand that he would not knowingly sign a false statement, (c) the statement was signed by Bregman and (d) his attorney must have advised him of the penalties under 18 U.S.C. ยง 1001 for submitting a false statement to the Government).

This court reversed. In addition to finding no adequate evidence of necessity in the record and an incomplete opportunity for cross-examination at trial, the court stated that the guarantees of trustworthiness cited by the trial court were "outweighed by the circumstances that [the statement] was made almost seven years after the events therein, in an obvious effort to obtain a light sentence, was not under oath, and there was no opportunity for cross-examination [at the time the statement was made]."*fn13 After discussing DeSisto, Taylor and Nuccio at length, the court concluded that "even if we agreed with DeSisto, which we do not decide, the circumstances here would not permit its application."*fn14

In view of this court's holding in Schwartz and the Supreme Court's ruling in Bridges v. Wixon, we are compelled to hold that the admission of Small's statement to the jury as proof of the facts asserted therein was reversible error. Since Small was available for both direct and cross-examination, there could have been no showing of "necessity" in the usual sense, i. e., the unavailability of the witness. Other than Small's having signed the statement, none of the guarantees of trustworthiness found in Schwartz are present. Small was not under oath at the time he gave the statement. He was presumably not aware of the penalties for submitting a false statement. He was probably motivated at least in part by the desire to obtain lenient treatment for ...

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