Extortion • Conspiracy • RICO • Evidence • Prosecutorial Misconduct

U.S. v. John-Baptiste, PICS Case No. 14-0309 (3d Cir. Feb. 19, 2014) McKee, C.J. (38 pages).

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s judgment of acquittal on certain counts, but otherwise affirmed.

Defendants John-Baptiste, Brooks and Edwards challenged their convictions following trial before the district court. All of those convictions related to defendants’ alleged extortion, kidnapping, bribes and drug trafficking while they served as law enforcement officers in the Virgin Islands. The government cross-appealed the district court’s acquittal on several counts.

Brooks complained about the sufficiency of the indictment because the government did not identify the victims of each crime by name, which Brooks argued precluded him from asserting a double jeopardy claim in the future. The court held the indictment set forth enough specificity about the crimes to withstand a double jeopardy challenge.

John-Baptiste had been found guilty of a single count, false imprisonment and kidnapping, and was acquitted of all other charges. He argued the district court erred in rejecting his pre-trial request for severance, claiming that joining the matter in an indictment containing numerous charges against other defendants allowed evidence admissible only against Brooks and Edwards to spillover and be used against him. Nothing in the record suggested the jury was unable to compartmentalize the evidence, so the circuit court affirmed.

John-Baptiste also appealed the false imprisonment and kidnapping conviction, arguing that the government’s evidence was insufficient to prove he acted without lawful authority when he made an arrest. The court concluded the jury could reasonably find that even if the arrest was lawful, at some point during the person’s detention John-Baptiste decided to hold her until he received a payment that could only be described as a ransom.

The government challenged the acquittal of Brooks and Edwards on certain counts. The circuit court held there was enough circumstantial evidence to sustain an extortion charge even if the money was not placed directly in Edwards’ hands.

The district court had also relied on the absence of direct evidence to acquit Brooks and Edwards on conspiracy charges. The circuit court reversed the acquittals because there was ample evidence of a longstanding pattern of activity between the two. Likewise, the acquittals for conspiracy to distribute drugs were reversed because there was enough circumstantial evidence for the jury to conclude the illegal ventures involved drugs.

Brooks claimed the district court erred in denying his motion for a new trial on his RICO conviction. Only two predicate acts are required to establish a RICO violation. Not counting the acquittals that were being reversed on appeal, Brooks had eight convictions for offenses that were predicate acts, foreclosing his challenge on the RICO claim.

Edwards and Brooks claimed prosecutorial misconduct occurred during trial when the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence. The circuit court held that playing only a portion of a taped conversation was not a problem, because the entire tape was admitted into evidence and the allegedly exculpatory portion was played on cross-examination.

All three defendants claimed the district court erred in limiting the cross-examination of government witnesses because the court only permitted nonspecific questions about the reduction in sentences these witnesses received for testifying. The circuit court held this limitation was not an abuse of the court’s discretion.