A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

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By Burt Rose

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has granted a new trial in the case of United States versus Douglas Adams et al, 2013 WL 3717429 (July 17, 2013).

The defendants were convicted of conspiring to operate a vote buying scheme in Kentucky. If the voter agreed to cast his or her vote for a particular set of candidates, the voter would be paid. At trial, the government presented testimony from convicted drug dealers which the government argued was admissible as proper background evidence under rule 404(b) of the rules of evidence, to show a criminal connection between the defendants and these dealers which established how these defendants had the ability to access large amounts of cash for the conspiracy for which they were charged. The court of appeals said that under rule 403, such evidence was not necessary to establish a connection because there was testimony about the defendants being associated in the vote buying scheme without needing the drug testimony.  Because the drug evidence was not inextricably intertwined with the vote buying conspiracy, and there was no allegation that particular drug money was in fact used to buy votes, the evidence was wrongfully admitted.

Importantly, a new trial was granted even though the District Court instructed the jury that the defendants were not charged with drug crimes. Because the government’s evidence painted the defendants in a bad light by connecting them to drug dealers, and there was no need for the government to explain the source of money used to purchase votes, the District Court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of drug dealing in this case.

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