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United States of America v. Gregory Griswold

December 14, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GREGORY GRISWOLD



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Diamond, J.

MEMORANDUM

After a four-day trial, the jury convicted Defendant Gregory Griswold of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). I indicated during trial that I would issue this Memorandum, setting forth more fully the bases of several rulings: (1) denial of Defendant's pretrial Motion In Limine to exclude two knives and gun periodicals seized from his apartment; (2) denial of Defendant's last-minute request to proceed pro se; (3) admission of a recorded telephone conversation between Defendant and Yunina Wingfield; and (4) admission of a newspaper clipping on which Defendant had written a threat to a key Government witness.

I. BACKGROUND

The trial evidence showed that Defendant, having been convicted in 1994 before the Honorable Harvey Bartle and a jury of firearms offenses, was on supervised release in September 2008 when authorities searched his Philadelphia apartment. I have previously described that search, Defendant's arrest, and his statements to authorities. (See Memorandum, July 20, 2010, Doc. No. 48 at 1, 8--13 (granting in part and denying in part Defendant's Motion to Suppress).) Briefly, acting on anonymous tips that Defendant illegally had a handgun, Defendant's Probation Officer obtained Judge Bartle's authorization to search Defendant's apartment. With the assistance of United States Marshals, the Officer conducted the search and recovered a fully-loaded, semiautomatic handgun, a duffel bag containing ammunition for the gun, a brochure for a local firing range, and gun periodicals. The search team also recovered a folding knife from a closet and a sheathed fixed-blade knife on a table.

Shortly after his arrest, Defendant told the Marshals that the handgun belonged to his wife, Yunina Wingfield. (Doc. No. 48 at 13.) Defendant subsequently telephoned Ms. Wingfield from prison and unsuccessfully urged her to tell authorities that the gun was hers. The Government subsequently learned that the "anonymous tipster" was Defendant's former paramour, Tarena Pendleton. Through a series of letters, Defendant also sought unsuccessfully to convince Ms. Pendleton to tell authorities that she had planted the gun in his apartment. The Government introduced the letters-which because increasingly threatening-to show Defendant's consciousness of guilt.

Defendant did not dispute that the gun and ammunition were in his apartment. Rather, he sought to convince the jury that Ms. Pendleton had planted them and then alerted authorities to punish Defendant after their romantic relationship ended. Although Ms. Pendleton acknowledged that she informed authorities of the gun because she was angry at Defendant, she denied planting the weapon. (Trial Tr., Nov. 3, 2011, Doc. No. 129 at 35:23--37:3.)

II. DEFENDANT'S PRETRIAL MOTION IN LIMINE

Defendant asked me to exclude as irrelevant and prejudicial the two knives and gun periodicals recovered from his apartment. (Am. Mot. in Limine, Doc. No. 96.) After I heard argument during the Final Pretrial Conference, I indicated that the periodicals were admissible, but deferred ruling on the knives until I could examine them. (Hr'g Tr., Oct. 24, 2011, Doc. No. 124 at 6--11.)

As I explained in denying Defendant's Motion, the periodicals are probative of Defendant's intent and motive to possess a gun. That the periodicals were found in a duffel bag in Defendant's apartment together with ammunition for the gun and a local firing range brochure suggests that Defendant did in fact possess the gun, and refutes Defendant's contention that the weapon was planted. Because the periodicals presented no risk of unfair prejudice, I admitted them, finding that their probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. See Fed. R. Evid. 403.

I inspected the knives on the second day of trial. Neither knife had a blade longer than four inches; they appeared to be steak knives. There was no suggestion that it was unlawful for Defendant to possess them. (See Doc. No. 124 at 10:25--11:2.) Rather, the Government sought to introduce them to corroborate Ms. Pendleton's "anonymous" tip that Defendant carried a knife as well as a gun. In thus bolstering Ms. Pendleton's credibility, this evidence necessarily refuted Defendant's contention that Ms. Pendleton had planted the gun. Having examined the knives, I found that the danger of unfair prejudice was minimal. Accordingly, I admitted the knives because their probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. See Fed. R. Evid. 403.

III. DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO PROCEED PRO SE

On the first day of trial-immediately before jury selection-Defendant asked me to dismiss his counsel and announced for the first time that he wished to represent himself, providing I continued trial for two or three months. (Trial Tr., Oct. 31, 2011, Doc. No. 125 at 2:13--15, 12:15--21.) I refused to continue trial and so denied his request.

A.Standards

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to self-representation. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 819--20 (1975). A defendant's request to proceed pro se is timely even if made on the eve of trial. United States v. Bankoff, 613 F.3d 358, 373 (3d Cir. 2010). The right to self-representation is not absolute, however. Martinez v. Court of Appeal of Cal., 528 U.S. 152, 161 (2000). Nor is it "a license to disrupt the criminal calendar, or a trial in progress." Buhl v. Cooksey, 233 F.3d 783, 797 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted); see also United States v. Kaczynski, 239 F.3d 1108, 1116 (9th Cir. 2001) (upholding denial of self-representation request that was made for purposes of delay); United States v. Akers, 215 F.3d 1089, 1097 (10th Cir. 2000) ("The district court properly denies a request for self-representation where it finds the request was made to delay the trial."); Hamilton v. Groose, 28 F.3d 859, 862 (8th Cir. 1994) ("Defendant may not manipulate this right in order to delay or disrupt his trial.").

When a defendant seeks to proceed pro se, the district court must conduct an inquiry to satisfy the following requirements: (1) the defendant must assert his desire to proceed pro se clearly and unequivocally; (2) the court must ensure that the defendant understands the nature of the charges, the range of possible punishments, and the specific risks involved in proceeding without counsel; and (3) the defendant is competent to stand trial. United States v. Peppers, 302 F.3d 120, 132 (3d Cir. 2002).

The Third Circuit has addressed how district courts should evaluate eleventh-hour self-representation requests:

Where, on the eve of trial, a defendant seeks new counsel, or, in the alternative, opts to represent himself, the district court . . . must decide if the reasons for the defendant's request for substitute counsel constitute good cause and are thus sufficiently substantial to justify a continuance of the trial in order to allow new counsel to be obtained. If the district court determines that the defendant is not entitled to a continuance in order to engage new counsel, ...


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