In United States v. Mitrovic, No. 16-16162 (May 23, 2018) (Corrigan (M.D. Fla.), William Pryor, Julie Carnes), the Court affirmed the defendant's conviction for unlawful procurement of naturalization.
At trial, the central dispute was whether the defendant served as a guard at a prison camp in Serbia where ethnic cleansing occurred in the 1990s, or whether he was instead forcibly conscripted into forced labor. On appeal, he argued that the district court violated his right to a complete defense under Chambers v. Mississippi by refusing to admit hearsay statements of recalcitrant witnesses. They were prisoners at the camp for a time period longer than defense witnesses who testified at trial, and they had initially stated that they had not seen him working as a guard, but later refused to be deposed because they were Muslims and did not want to be perceived as helping a Serb.
First, the Court ruled that application of the hearsay rules were neither arbitrary nor disproportionate, and did not violate the defendant's right to present a complete defense or infringe upon a weighty interest of the accused. Rather, it only prevented him from increasing the quantity of witnesses who would tell the jury what other witnesses had already said. The Court continued that, even if the correct application of the rules of evidence could violate Chambers, the hearsay statements here were different than the evidence in Chambers: they were merely helpful, not exculpatory; they were made 20 years after the events; they were not as compelling; and the declarants were not available for cross examination. Only one of the factors slightly weighed in the defendant's favor -- i.e., the statements were possibly made against a social interest, which was an exception to hearsay in several states. Thus, the Court concluded that Chambers was distinguishable.
Second, the Court rejected the defendant's argument that the district court erred by refusing to take judicial notice of the Geneva Convention to show that Bosnia would not have submitted documentation that it conscripted him into forced labor. The Court assumed without deciding that the Geneva Convention could be judicially noticed, but found that the district court did not err by concluding that its probative value was substantially outweighed by the possibility of confusing the jury under Rule 403. It was unclear whether the Geneva Convention applied, the jury would not know how to apply it, the defendant was still able to argue that he was conscripted into forced labor, and the Convention would not establish that a particular document was false.