U.S. v. Morrison, 75-2060

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
Citation535 F.2d 223
Docket NumberNo. 75-2060,75-2060
PartiesUNITED STATES of America v. Walter MORRISON a/k/a "Skip" Morrison, et al. Appeal of Nick BOSCIA.
Decision Date03 June 1976

Blair A. Griffith, U. S. Atty., James A. Villanova, James J. West, Asst. U. S. Attys., Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee.

Joel S. Perr, Perr, Ziegler & Ombres, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellant.

Before GIBBONS, FORMAN and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.


FORMAN, Circuit Judge.

Appellant Nick Boscia was found guilty after a jury trial on two counts, conspiracy to distribute and distribution of approximately 856.5 grams of hashish in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a), 846.

The only issue on appeal is whether appellant was denied a fair trial in that he was deprived of his constitutional right to call witnesses in his defense by the actions of Mr. Villanova, the Assistant United States Attorney. The trial judge heard sworn testimony, out of the presence of the jury, from the lawyers for the defendants (Mr. Boscia was tried with two co-defendants; other indicted conspirators pled guilty), and from Mr. Villanova. Though clearly troubled by the case and terming the actions of the Assistant United States Attorney "improper," the judge denied a motion for mistrial made during the trial and motions made after trial for judgment of acquittal or alternatively for a new trial.


The story that emerges from study of the record, including the testimony given at the evidentiary hearing, is that defendant, Mr. Boscia, and his lawyer planned his defense around the testimony of Sally Bell, Mr. Boscia's girl friend, who allegedly was prepared to swear that it was she and not Mr. Boscia who had been involved in the conspiracy to sell hashish. As the pair told the story to Joel S. Perr, Esq., Mr. Boscia's court-appointed lawyer, Mr. Boscia's involvement was minimal and incidental and he decided to reject the plea negotiations and go to trial. Ms. Bell was originally indicted with Mr. Boscia and others but charges were dropped against her when it was disclosed that she had been under eighteen years at the relevant time. She seems to have understood that with the dropping of federal charges she was free from prosecution for her role in the conspiracy. This, however, was not true. Under 18 U.S.C. § 5032 she could still be charged as a juvenile in state court, which is now the usual forum for all federal juvenile offenders, and if the state declined to prosecute her, she could be prosecuted by permission of the United States Attorney General in the federal court.

On the morning that the trial commenced, Monday, April 14, 1975, Ms. Bell assured defense counsel that she was willing to testify. Mr. Boscia's lawyer, not sure of the status of the charges against her but aware there might be conflict between her interest and that of his client, requested the court to appoint counsel for her or grant her immunity. This was opposed by Mr. Villanova. He stated that he was not going to call Ms. Bell and, should the defense do so, a warning by the court of her rights would be sufficient protection. 1 The judge said the court would instruct her on her rights, but expressed doubt as to whether he could appoint counsel for a witness or grant immunity except on motion of the Government. 2

During the next few days Mr. Villanova appears to have had a change of mind as to the protection he considered that Ms. Bell needed. On at least three occasions he sent messages to her through defense counsel warning that she was liable to be prosecuted on drug charges; that if she testified, that testimony would be used as evidence against her and, further, that as she was now eighteen it would be possible to bring federal perjury charges against her. 3 Not content that these messages would adequately alert her to her peril, he sent a subpoena to Ms. Bell and had her brought into his office on Wednesday, April 16. 4 The subpoena would not appear to have had any legal validity as it was made out for a day already past. Originally addressed to Mike McBride, his name had been scratched out and Sally Bell's inserted instead. The only purpose of the subpoena would therefore seem to have been to impress Ms. Bell with the force of the law with with she was entangling. There, surrounded by the three law-enforcement officers who had served as undercover agents in the case and whose testimony Sally Bell was meant to undermine in court, he once again impressed upon her the dangers of testifying.

At this interview Mr. Villanova, according to his testimony, advised Ms. Bell of her rights. He testified that

"Some of the rights I couldn't remember myself, even though I'm an attorney, and the police officers told me what to tell her as far as her rights, her right not to testify, not to say anything to me, her rights to have an attorney present, her right to remain silent even after she said something. . . . I told her that if she admitted she was part of this thing that she could in fact be prosecuted as a juvenile in state court, and I told her that if she could not be prosecuted as a juvenile in state court that she could be prosecuted possibly, with the permission of the attorney general, as a juvenile in federal court, and I told her that she should know that before she went up to the witness stand and confessed.

"I also told her that if she testified falsely that she could subject herself to a perjury charge, and I told her that even though the charges were dismissed against her as an adult on the dope charge itself, that if she testified falsely she was now an adult over 18, and if we could prove it, and she was testifying falsely on behalf of Nick Boscia thinking to get her to lie to exculpate himself and get off the hook, she could be prosecuted for perjury, and she should know that." Transcript at 377-9.

Ms. Bell seems to have felt increasingly intimidated under this barrage of warnings. 5 When she was called to the stand on the morning of Thursday, April 17, though she answered many of the questions fully and intelligently, there were more than thirty questions which she refused to answer on the ground that the answers might incriminate her, thus depriving appellant of much of the evidence he had expected to place before the jury. After Ms. Bell's testimony, Judge Knox held the before-mentioned evidentiary hearing at which the defense attorneys, Mr. Villanova and Ms. Bell testified under oath.


The Supreme Court has stated:

"The right to offer the testimony of witnesses, and to compel their attendance, if necessary, is in plain terms the right to present a defense, the right to present the defendant's version of the facts as well as the prosecution's to the jury so it may decide where the truth lies. Just as an accused has the right to confront the prosecution's witnesses for the purpose of challenging their testimony he has the right to present his own witnesses to establish a defense. This right is a fundamental element of due process of law." Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14 at 19, 87 S.Ct. 1920, 1923, 18 L.Ed.2d 1019, 1023 (1967).

This right is found specifically in the Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process. 6 A recent commentator 7 has traced the development of the compulsory process clause finding that at the time of its adoption it stood for the principle that "a defendant should have a meaningful opportunity, at least on a par with that of the prosecution 8 to present a case in his favor through witnesses." Mr. Boscia alleges that the actions of Mr. Villanova denied him this right. We agree.

The grounds on which the District Court denied Mr. Boscia's motions were that Mr. Villanova's actions were done in good faith, did not cause any substantial prejudice to Mr. Boscia and did not deprive him of any right to which he was entitled. We believe that the Supreme Court decision in Webb v. Texas, 409 U.S. 95, 93 S.Ct. 351, 34 L.Ed.2d 330 (1972) stands directly in the way of the District Court's conclusion and must control this case.

In Webb, the Supreme Court reversed the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and found the defendant had been denied due process where the trial judge gratuitously and unnecessarily singled out the defendant's only witness for a lengthy admonition on the dangers of perjury, assuring the witness that if he lied he would be prosecuted and probably convicted of perjury, that the resulting sentence would be added onto the one he was serving and impair his chances of parole. After this warning, the witness had refused to testify and was excused by the court.

The District Court sought to distinguish Webb on the grounds that the witness in that case had been driven from the stand by the judge's warning whereas Sally Bell testified freely to non-incriminating matters before the jury and testified out of jury hearing on the conversation she had with Mr. Villanova. We do not find these distinctions relevant to the issue of whether the actions of the prosecutor interfered with Mr. Boscia's right to have his witness give evidence in his favor.

The District Court found that the remarks of Mr. Villanova were the cause of Sally Bell's choice not to incriminate herself. 9 Such a finding would seem indeed mandated by the burden of proof established for such a question in Webb. There the Texas Court of Appeals had held there was no showing that the witness had been intimidated by the admonition or refused to testify because of it. The Supreme Court disagreed, 409 U.S. at 97, 98, 93 S.Ct. at 353, 34 L.Ed.2d at 333. It said:

"The fact that Mills was willing to come to court to testify in the petitioner's behalf, refusing to do so only after the judge's lengthy and intimidating warning, strongly suggests that the judge's comments were the cause of Mills' refusal to testify. . . .

"In the circumstances of this case, we conclude that the judge's threatening remarks, directed...

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