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Government of Virgin Islands v. Roldan

decided: December 28, 1979.

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, APPELLEE
v.
JUAN ASCENCIO ROLDAN, APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF VIRGIN ISLANDS; DIVISION OF ST. CROIX (D.C. Crim. No. 78-00048)

Before Gibbons, Weis and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Garth

Opinion OF THE COURT

This is an appeal from a conviction for murder in the first degree under V.I.Code tit. 14, ยง 922(a)(1). Juan A. Roldan, the convicted defendant, challenges first, the admission into evidence of his prior conviction and second, the sufficiency of the evidence of premeditation and deliberation. Because we are satisfied that the district court did not err in its evidentiary ruling or in submitting the case to the jury, we affirm.

I.

On the morning of March 23, 1978, Enrique Garcia was found dead in a yard close to Roldan's property. His body, which was covered with blood, revealed multiple stab wounds. An autopsy disclosed that the stab wounds were the cause of death.

Roldan, who was a neighbor of the owners of the yard where the body was found, was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Blood was found in and around Roldan's house, on some articles of clothing, and on Roldan's person. A blood-stained machete, which fit the autopsy description of the murder weapon, was found atop an outhouse in Roldan's yard.

Roldan was found guilty by a jury after a two-day trial. Testimony included that of Luz Maria Cruz, the wife of Roldan's nephew. Cruz was called by the Government. Defense counsel's cross-examination began as follows:

Q Mrs. Cruz, I am a lawyer for Mr. Roldan, I am going to ask you a few questions.

Now, have you known Mr. Roldan for two or three years?

A Yes. I am married to my husband since 1961, ever since I know him.

Q Do you ever see people other than Mr. Roldan going to his house?

A No.

Q Would you say that he is a lonely unsociable fellow?

A He is a man that never bother anybody.

Trial Transcript at 38-39 (emphasis supplied). This line of questioning was not continued.

The Government, at a sidebar conference, and in chambers during a recess, contended that Roldan's counsel, by these inquiries, had introduced evidence of Roldan's good character, thereby allowing the Government to impeach Cruz' testimony on redirect examination. The Government offered defense counsel a choice either retract the third question ("Would you say that he is a lonely unsociable fellow?"), and strike the answer given, or the Government would question Cruz about Roldan's prior murder conviction. Roldan's attorney refused to retract the question or to move to strike the answer. At the same time he also objected to the Government's proposed impeachment. The district court then made clear to defense counsel that the Government would be allowed to question Cruz about the prior conviction.

On redirect examination, Cruz was asked the following questions by the Government:

Q Mrs. Cruz, you are aware, are you not, that the Defendant was convicted previously of murder in the 1st degree?

MR. JOHNSON: (defense counsel) I object to the question and ask that it be stricken and the jury instructed to disregard.

THE COURT: I will overrule the objection on the grounds I previously stated.

A (By the witness) Yes, I knew about that.

Q (By Mr. Schwartz (Assistant U.S. Attorney)) You knew he was convicted of murder in the 1st degree?

A Yes, sir, I have known of that.

Q And you would still say he is a man who never bothers anyone?

A Now, yes, I have to ...


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