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Media Alerts - United States v. Banks - Fourth Circuit
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November 12, 2013
  United States v. Banks - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Fourth Circuit Reverses Conviction Based Solely on Hearsay Evidence

Area of Law: Criminal Procedure

Issue Presented: Whether a police officer's statement that an out of court witness is reliable is sufficient to allow the admission of hearsay evidence from that witness.

Brief Summary: While serving a sentence of supervised release resulting from a previous conviction, Daniel Banks allegedly sold cocaine to an informant of the Ohio Police Department. The informant did not appear at any of the proceedings and did not testify as a witness against Banks. Instead, an Ohio police officer testified that the informant told him he purchased the cocaine from Banks. This was the only evidence linking Banks to the crime. There was no recording of the exchange and the officer was not present at the time of exchange. However, the district court allowed the evidence, relying on the police officer's assurance that the informant was reliable and sentenced Banks to five months in prison.

The Fourth Circuit overturned the district court's ruling. An out of court statement (hearsay testimony) is allowed only if there is a good reason to justify it. Reliability of the hearsay evidence is a "critical factor" in this determination. In the case at hand, the prosecution provided no reason why the police officer felt the informant was reliable. The prosecution also did not give any reason why the informant was unavailable. Instead, the district court simply relied on the police officer's statement that the informant was reliable, without any other evidence. The Fourth Circuit opined that, with the lack of any other evidence linking Banks to the crime, it would be an injustice to Banks to allow the evidence from the absent informant. The court therefore vacated the lower court's ruling. It is not enough for a court to rely on a bald assertion by a law enforcement officer to conclude that information is reliable.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel: Judges Wilkinson, Niemeyer, and Motz

Date of Issued Opinion: 09/17/13

Docket Number: No. 13-4449

Decided: Vacated and remanded

Case Alert Author: Daniel F. Tavares

Counsel: Michael F. Smith, Victoria S. Palmer, THE SMITH APPELLATE LAW FIRM, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. William J. Ihlenfeld, II, United States Attorney, David J. Perri, Assistant United States Attorney, Wheeling, West Virginia, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Per Curiam

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 11/12/2013 11:53 AM     4th Circuit  

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