Friday, March 21, 2014

Appeals Court Decision in Reese Family Case

The Tea Party Patriots of Luna County has been the best source of information aobut this case.

The Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals published its Order in U.S.A. v REESE etal. on March 19, 2014.

In August 2012, Rick and Terri Reese were convicted of one count each of making false statements on ATF Form 4473, and Ryin Reese was convicted of two counts of making false statements on ATF Form 4473.  In December, information was alleged in open court by the Chief of the Criminal Division concerning a criminal investigation involving Deputy Sheriff Alan Batts.   (No charges have been filed to date as far as this writer knows.)  The revelation led to an evidentiary hearing in January 2013, which eventually led Judge Robert Brack granting a defense motion for a new trial.

The government appealed Judge Brack’s decision to grant a new trial for the Reeses.

In November 2013, the defense and the prosecution argued the legal technical points of whether or not Judge Brack erred in granting a new trial.   A recap of the appellate arguments can be reviewed at this link:  Reese appellate attorney Herb Titus argued in part that Deputy Batts was a key government witnesss.
“Due process requires a new trial if the government withholds evidence that is favorable to the defendant and material to guilt or punishment. Smith v Cain”.   Three elements which the Reeses needed to prove was that 1) the government suppressed evidence, 2) the evidence was favorable to the defendant, and 3) the evidence was material.  “Evidence is material if there is a reaonsable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different had the evidence been disclosed. Cain.”

The decision explained that Brady’s purpose (citing the case law involved in the Reese appeals case) is not to punish the misdeeds of the prosecutor, but to avoid an unfair trial.  They also explained that a different standard of review might apply if the undisclosed evidence shows that the government knowingly used perjured testimony.  The Reeses had not alleged the government withheld evidence of perjured testimony in this case.

The appeals court judges explained that the Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Cain, where the Court stated that evidence impeaching a government witness may not be material if the government’s other evidence is strong enough to sustain conficence in the verdict.  “We think that statement captures this case,” they explained.

The appellate judges noted that the sole critical question at trial was whether the defendants knew the agents were straw purchasers for Roman but helped the undercover agents psoing as straw purchasers for Roman fill out the Form 4473 saying otherwise.  Citing a number of points made by the prosecution during trial, the judges concluded the Reeses had to have known the undercover agents were posing as straw purchasers.

The appellate judges concluded that the Deputy Batts investigation was not material because the government’s evidence on the count of conviction was strong enough that they believe the jury would have reached the same verdict.  According to the appellate judges, Deputy Batts was not a critical witnesss because the principal link between the straw purchase counts and the defendants ws the video evidence, not Deputy Batts.    They rejected they argument that Batts was a critical witness.

The appellate judges also rejected that the Batts investigation was material because it was a close case based on the fact that the jury acquitted the Reeses on 24 of 28 counts.  They explained that the shortcomings of the evidence in those 24 counts did not “infect the straw purchase counts.”

They concluded there was no reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different if the government had disclosed that Deputy Batts was under investigation.  They reversed Judge Brack’s Order granting a new trial and sent the case back to Judge Brack for further proceedings.

The nature of those proceedings are not yet known, but presumably might involve sentencing.  Prior to the information being learned about Deputy Batts, the Reeses were waiting for the pre-sentencing investigation reports to be completed, and related issues to be completed prior to a sentencing hearing.


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