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United States v. Lipscomb

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
702 F.2d 1049 (1983)


Facts

At Lipscomb’s first trial for possession of heroin with intent to distribute, which resulted in a hung jury, he testified and was impeached with evidence regarding his prior robbery conviction from eight years earlier. On retrial, Lipscomb filed a motion in limine to preclude cross-examination regarding his prior conviction. The trial court denied Lipscomb’s motion, holding that cross-examining Lipscomb on his prior conviction was permissible under Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 609(a)(1). As a result, Lipscomb decided not to testify, however, the prosecutor impeached three of Lipscomb’s defense witnesses, Floyd Little, Daryl Smith and Robert Green, on the basis of their prior convictions. In allowing this impeachment evidence, the trial court concluded: (1) with regard to Smith who had been convicted of armed robbery one year earlier, that an armed robber would also lie under oath, and (2) with regard to Little’s conviction for armed robbery five years earlier and Green’s conviction for being an accessory after the fact to manslaughter five years earlier, that the probative value of the convictions outweighed their prejudicial effect. Lipscomb was convicted after his second trial and filed a motion for a new trial. The court held a hearing and asked the government to produce additional evidence regarding the prior convictions. The government produced evidence showing that Lipscomb and two others robbed a man with a BB gun, taking $13 and a hat and coat for which Lipscomb received three years’ probation but his probation was revoked and an indeterminate sentence imposed after various probation violations, including convictions for several burglaries. The prosecution also showed that: (1) Smith had robbed a man at gunpoint and stole his car and was convicted after pleading not guilty; (2) Little also robbed a man at gunpoint and was convicted after pleading not guilty; and (3) Green had helped others to rob an eighteen-year-old boy who the others stabbed after which they fled to Green’s house. Green was convicted after pleading guilty because all of the witnesses testified for the government. Lipscomb appealed his conviction, asserting that the district court generally must inquire into the underlying facts and circumstances of the before admitting evidence of prior convictions under FRE 609(a)(1). The government argues on appeal that the district court should not be permitted to make such an inquiry, or if the court is permitted to inquire into the facts and circumstances of the prior conviction, the court should be discouraged from doing so because the inquiry will be burdensome and unlikely to yield helpful information.

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Holding and Reasoning (Wald, J.)

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