In United States v. Carthen, No. 16-17653 (Oct. 25, 2018) (Martin, William Pryor, Baldock), the Court affirmed the defendants’ robbery and firearms convictions and sentences over multiple challenges.
First, the Court found sufficient evidence that one of the defendants conspired to commit a robbery and voluntarily participated in the robbery with a firearm.
Second, the Court found no plain error in admitting statements by the defendants’ co-conspirator under the hearsay exception in 801(d)(2)(E). The Court ruled that, when determining whether a conspiracy existed and whether the statement was made during the course of it, the court may rely on information provided by the co-conspirator as well as independent external evidence. The Court found enough evidence of a conspiracy to satisfy the exception.
Third, the Court found no abuse of discretion under Rule 608(b) by excluding the testimony of two defense witnesses designed to show that the co-conspirator had lied in other judicial proceedings. The Court reasoned that the Rule prohibited that evidence because it was designed only to make a general showing that the witness had a dishonest character.
Fourth, the Court held that the 924(c) sentencing scheme, resulting in a mandatory 57-term for the defendants here, did not violate the Eighth Amendment. Although that sentence was 5-6 times what the guideline range would have been, the Court had upheld a mandatory sentence of 182 years in a prior 924(c) case, which was over 10 times the guideline range. Because the defendant could not distinguish that prior case, the Court found that he failed to make a threshold showing of disproportionality.
Judge William Pryor concurred in full, but wrote separately to opine that the Court’s Rule 608(b) precedents categorically prohibiting impeachment by contradiction were contrary to the current version of the Rule and the position taken by the majority of the other circuits. He argued that, in an appropriate case where the issue was presented, the Court should hold that those precedents had been abrogated by the 2003 amendment to the Rule.