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Media Alerts - Terry Brown a/k/a Antonio Lambert v. Superintendent Greene SCI - Third Circuit
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September 12, 2016
  Terry Brown a/k/a Antonio Lambert v. Superintendent Greene SCI - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Holds Defendant's Sixth Amendment Rights Violated When Co-Defendant Declined to Testify During Trial and Prosecutor Revealed Redacted Identity of Defendant in Co-Defendant's Incriminating Confession.

Area of Law: Civil Rights

Issue(s) Presented: Was a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights violated when the confession of a co-defendant, who had asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify, was redacted to protect the identity of the defendant, and the prosecutor subsequently revealed the defendant's identity during his closing argument?

Brief Summary: Defendant Lambert and his co-defendant, Garcia, were tried jointly in Pennsylvania state court for the murder of Mary Edmond. In his confession, Garcia stated that Lambert was involved in the shooting and he was just a bystander who remained in the car during the robbery and shooting. Lambert was charged with, and convicted of, first-degree murder among other charges. During trial, Garcia asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to testify. Lambert argued that the combination of Garcia's confession implicating Lambert and Garcia's refusal to testify violated his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right. The trial court agreed and ordered the statement to be redacted of any mention of Lambert's name and replaced with phrases like "the other guy." The jury was instructed that it may only use the confession against Garcia, not Lambert. During closing arguments, however, the prosecutor revealed that "the other guy" who accompanied Garcia to his house after the shooting was Lambert, implicating Lambert as the shooter in Garcia's confession. Lambert objected and moved for a mistrial, but his request was denied and he was convicted on all counts. Lambert's appeal was unsuccessful, as was his habeas petition to the district court. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted a certificate of appealability. The Third Circuit found that the prosecutor's reveal of Lambert's identity violated the Supreme Court standard that reading a confession to a jury, and instructing them to use the confession against one defendant but not another, violated the Confrontation Clause and that limiting instructions could not cure that violation. The Court further held that because of the significance of Garcia's confession, and the absence of any other evidence identifying Lambert as the shooter, the error had a "substantial and injurious effect" on the outcome of the case and relief was warranted. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to either release or retry Defendant.

Extended Summary:

Defendant Lambert and his co-defendant, Garcia, were tried jointly in Pennsylvania state court for the murder of Mary Edmond. On February 23, 2001, Lambert, Garcia and their friend, Cheatham, were driving around North Philadelphia, smoking marijuana and obtaining Xanax pills, when the trio pulled over at a gas station and robbed, shot, and killed Mary Edmond. In his confession, Garcia claimed that Cheatham and Lambert were involved in the shooting and he was just a bystander who remained in the car.

During the criminal trial, Lambert's motion to sever was denied and he and Garcia were tried jointly. The Commonwealth planned to use Garcia's confession during the trial. Garcia asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and declined to testify at trial. Lambert argued that the combination of the confession implicating Lambert, and Garcia's refusal to testify, violated his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause rights. The trial court agreed, and ordered the statement to be redacted of any mention of Lambert or Cheatham's names, replacing them with phrases like "the other guy," "one of the guys," and "the guy with the gun." The jury was told at the time the confession was introduced, and again before deliberation, that it may only use the confession against Garcia and not against Lambert. During the Commonwealth's closing arguments, the prosecutor revealed that "the other guy" who accompanied Garcia to his house after the shooting was Lambert, implicating Lambert as the shooter. Lambert objected, but the judge overruled the objection and allowed the prosecutor to proceed with closing arguments. Lambert then moved for a mistrial, but his request was denied and he was convicted on all counts. Lambert's direct appeals were unsuccessful. His habeas petition in the district court was then denied, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted a certificate of appealability.

The Third Circuit reasoned that United States Supreme Court precedent holds that cognitive dissonance results from asking jurors to consider a confession only against one defendant and not another. In some of these cases, an extreme risk exists that a jury cannot follow these instructions, the consequences of which are vital to the defendant. In these cases, after the jury is exposed to an incriminating confession, no limiting instructions are sufficient to cure the harm that results to the defendant. Here, the Third Circuit found that the prosecutor's reveal of Lambert's identity violated Supreme Court standards that reading a confession to a jury, and instructing them to use the confession against one defendant but not another, violated the Confrontation Clause and limiting instructions could not cure the violation.

Following clearly established Supreme Court law, the Third Circuit held that the prosecutor's reveal of Lambert's identity violated his Sixth Amendment rights under the Confrontation Clause. Further, the Court concluded that this error was not harmless to Lambert, and that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court misapplied this clearly established precedent by not requiring a mistrial. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to either release or retry the Defendant.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/142655p.pdf

Panel: Ambro, Krause, and Nygaard, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: June 16, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: August 22, 2016

Docket Number: No. 14-2655

Decided: Remanded.

Case Alert Author: Rachel N. Costello

Counsel: Leigh M. Skipper, Esquire, Brett G. Sweitzer, Esquire, Arianna J. Freeman, Esquire, Counsel for Appellant; and Susan E. Affronti, Esquire, Ronald Eisenberg, Esquire, George D. Mosee, Jr., Esquire, R. Seth Williams, Esquire, Counsel for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Ambro

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Mary E. Levy

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/12/2016 09:21 AM     3rd Circuit  

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