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United States v. Lacy

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 20444
Nos. Nos. 96-4859 et al., 131 F.3d 137/(4th Cir., 12/15/1997)

The court holds that defendants convicted of Federal Water Pollution Control Act violations were prejudiced by a district court's jury instruction in violation of Rule 30 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Defendants requested that the district court give an instruction that would state that "evidence of the defendant's honesty, truthfulness, and veracity and law-abidingness alone may create a reasonable doubt whether the government proved that the defendant committed the crime." Counsel for defendants relied on the district court's representation that it would give the requested instruction on character evidence in making its closing arguments. At the conclusion of closing arguments, the district court gave a jury instruction about character evidence, but, over defendants' objection, omitted the word "alone" from the charge requested by defendants. The court holds that the deletion of "alone" from the instruction, in context of the court's failure to properly inform defense counsel of its decision before closing argument, significantly prejudiced the defendants. Accordingly, the court vacates defendants' convictions and remands the case for a new trial.

Counsel for Plaintiff
David C. Shilton
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Defendants
Eric J. Murdock
Hunton & Williams
2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 9000, Washington DC 20006
(202) 955-1555

Before Luttig, Williams, and Bullock, JJ.