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Federal Court Reverses Conviction Based on Hearsay

United States v. Johnson

The court reversed defendant-Johnson’s conviction for being a felon in possession of a rifle because it was based on “hearsay” evidence; however, it held that there was sufficient evidence to convict him of being a felon in possession of a handgun.

There was “considerable other evidence . . . that Johnson possessed the handgun.” The fact that “Johnson knew the gun was in the car and that it was located conspicuously within arm’s length of him told the jury all it needed to know to convict him.” Any error arising from the hearsay evidence as to the handgun was “harmless.” The court rejected his arguments regarding the absence of his fingerprints on the handgun, noting that there are “many cases upholding similar convictions without fingerprint evidence.” It also rejected his claim that after the jury received the proper instruction to consider each charge separately, it “would have failed to consider the rifle evidence separately from the handgun evidence.” The district court was not required to “redact the name of his prior felony from a document shown to the jury[,]” or to give “a limiting instruction about the prior conviction, warning the jury against inferring that, because Johnson had possessed a gun before, he would do so again.” Although the district court may have improperly commented on an element of the crime (interstate commerce), Johnson’s “substantial rights” were not affected “because it did not affect the outcome.” The judge “never repeated the statement and never violated the core prohibition in this area by instructing the jury that an element of the crime had been established.” Finally, the court concluded that the best way to deal with his “concurrent 60-month sentences” for both convictions was to vacate them both and remand for resentencing on the one surviving conviction.

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