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United States v. Angell

United States District Court, D. Utah

July 12, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Misty Y. Angell, Defendant.



         Before the court are Defendant Misty Y. Angell's pending motions for mistrial and for judgment of acquittal, both of which were raised during the course of her trial. (Dkt. Nos. 79 & 85.) After a two-day trial, the jury found Ms. Angell guilty of possessing, or aiding and abetting possession of, stolen mail and of possessing methamphetamine. (Dkt. No. 92.) The court now addresses each motion separately.

         Motion for Mistrial

         On the first day of its presentation of evidence, the United States called Officer Steven Ray Rawson to the stand. (Dkt. No. 79.) Officer Rawson testified that he was one of two officers who spoke with Ms. Angell in the parking lot of the Walmart store in Magna, Utah, after an eye witness reported seeing a vehicle, matching the one Ms. Angell was entering, driving slowly down a Magna street while a passenger got out and went through mailboxes. Officer Rawson testified that mail was found in the car below Ms. Angell's seat and that, after being Mirandized, Ms. Angell took responsibility for the mail. The officer paraphrased her statement as follows:

She said that they were going to [Walmart] and she decided to get out of the car and go check mailboxes . . . . but she said that she- we had determined it was over near that location, Patrick Drive and off of 31st is where she remembers, somewhere in there, and that she was walking and checking mailboxes. And, you know, she remembers running from the witness, I think . . . .

(Rawson Transcript p. 17.)

         During the course of Officer Rawson's testimony, the prosecutor and witness had the following exchange:

Q So at the conclusion of this investigation, did Ms. Angell ever follow up with you on it?
A Did she follow up with me?
Q Yeah. Did she ever call you to change her statement or-

(Id. at p. 22.) Before the prosecutor completed this question, defense counsel objected and asked to approach the bench. (Id.) While at the bench, defense counsel moved for a mistrial “on the grounds that he is commenting on the fact that-if she's under investigation, she has a right to remain silent. And he's implying if she did not follow up with him in some way, she might be guilty . . . . That is a comment on her right to remain silent . . . .” (Id. at p. 22-23.) After an initial discussion at the bench in which the United States opposed the defense's motion, the court excused the jury so that the parties could fully argue the issue. (Id. at p. 23.) After hearing their arguments, the court posed options to the parties: that the court (1) grant the motion immediately and declare a mistrial; (2) reserve ruling on the issue, allowing the court to rule on it after further instruction to the jury and briefing from the parties; or (3) reserve the motion but give an immediate curative instruction. (Id. at p. 26.) Ultimately the court reserved ruling on the basis that the court could adequately protect Ms. Angell's rights by proceeding, issuing a curative instruction to the jury, and allowing the parties to submit further briefing on the issue. (Id. at p. 27.)

         After the jury had returned, the court asked the court reporter to reread the questions at issue and instructed the jury to completely disregard the prosecutor's most recent questions and any answers and to understand that a person under investigation has a right to remain silent and has no obligation to correct any statement made. (Id. at p. 27-28.) The court further instructed that the jury was not to draw any inferences about Ms. Angell's innocence or guilt from the questions or any answer the witness may have given. (Id.)

         Between the first and second days of trial, each party submitted briefing in support of its position. (See Dkt. Nos. 81 & 82.) In its brief, objecting to the motion, the United States argued that this case is analogous to Greer v. Miller, 483 U.S. 756 (1987), and that the motion should be denied based on the facts that Officer Rawson never answered the problematic question, that the court issued a curative instruction, and that the prosecutor did not (and would not for the duration of the trial) further pursue the issue. (Dkt. No. 81.) Ms. Angell argued that the prosecutor's questions constituted a “use” of her silence in a manner that could not be cured. (Dkt. No. 82.)

         The trial then proceeded through the presentation of evidence with no further comment on Ms. Angell's right to remain silent. After the close of the government's case, Ms. Angell rested without putting on any witnesses of her own. Before closing arguments, the court gave each party the opportunity to make additional arguments on the motion for mistrial, which the defendant declined and the government declined other than to emphasize to the court that review of the transcript revealed ...

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