In United States v. Harris, No. 16-17646 (Jill Pryor, Hull, Proctor) (Apr. 2, 2018), the Court affirmed the defendant’s witness tampering and obstruction convictions over four evidentiary challenges.
First, the Court rejected the defendant’s Rule 403 argument that it was unduly prejudicial for the government to introduce evidence of a murder for which she was never charged, because that evidence was highly probative of the obstruction charge and necessary to provide the jury with necessary context about it. The Court also found that the admission of five gruesome and inflammatory photographs of the murder was probative and did not carry an impermissibly high risk of inflaming the jury.
Second, the Court rejected challenges to the admission of hearsay evidence, because the statements were not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted but rather to show its motivational effect on others. The Court also rejected a Rule 403 challenge to that evidence because it had probative value to the obstruction charge and thus its unfair prejudice did not substantially outweigh its probative value.
Third, the Court found that certain statements satisfied the co-conspirator exception to the hearsay rule in Rule 801(d)(2)(E). The Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the statement were not made during the course of the conspiracy but were merely narrative declarations. The Court again rejected a Rule 403 challenge to their admission.
Finally, the Court found that the court properly admitted a protective order because it was relevant and probative of the witness-tampering charge. Although the defendant was unaware of the protective order, its existence showed that the witnesses faced substantial risks and therefore reasonably could have interpreted the defendant’s communications as a threat.