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Berger v. United States

295 U.S. 78 (1935)

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Berger v. United States

United States Supreme Court

295 U.S. 78 (1935)

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Facts

The government indicted eight individuals for conspiring to pass counterfeit money. One pleaded guilty and testified against Berger (defendant) under a non-prosecution agreement. During cross-examination and argument to the jury, the federal prosecutor misstated facts; assumed facts not in evidence; bullied, badgered, and argued with witnesses; mischaracterized testimony; implied he had personal knowledge that witnesses were lying; and suggested without proof that witnesses had spoken to him personally outside the courtroom. The prosecutor also stated that a witness who had difficulty identifying Berger actually knew him well, and that the defense had an advantage in being allowed to “twist” witnesses while the prosecution could not. The trial judge sustained objections to some of the prosecutor’s comments and directed the jury to disregard them, but did not grant a mistrial. Although the case against Berger was weak because it relied on the testimony of a co-conspirator who entered a plea agreement and had a long criminal record, the court denied Berger’s motion to dismiss the conspiracy charges at the close of the evidence. After the jury convicted Berger of conspiracy, Berger appealed on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct in addition to insufficiency of the evidence.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Sutherland, J.)

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