Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Davis: Okay to ask if witness was a "chaplain"

In U.S. v. Davis, No. 13-12436 (March 5, 2015), the Court affirmed a conviction for possessing an unregistered short-barreled shotgun in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d). Fed. R. Evid. 610 provides that evidence of a witness’s religious beliefs or opinions is not admissible to attach or support the witness’s credibility. The Court rejected the argument that the district court violated Rule 610 when it allowed the government to elicit from a police officer’s testimony the fact that he was employed as a “chaplain.” The Court noted that this did not inquire into the witness’s religious beliefs. Further, proving a witness’s job is not the same as attacking or supporting a witness’s credibility. The Court noted that a challenge to asking a witness about his position as a chaplain might arise under Fed. R. Evid. 403, but here the defense did not invoke this Rule. At trial, the defense requested a jury instruction that it is legitimate for defense counsel to attack the credibility of a police officer based on his or her interest in the outcome of the case. The Court agreed with the district court that there was no need for this instruction, and the standard instructions on credibility, though not controlling, were adequate. Finally, the Court rejected the challenge to giving a modified Allen charge to a deadlocked jury. The Court found no error in giving the charge in two installments, over time. The Court noted that the instruction was given after the jury reported its deadlock after 3 hours of deliberation, and that the court told the jury that if it worked through lunch and was still deadlocked it would be discharged.