Decided: March 1, 2013
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and vacated the defendant’s conviction of a carjacking and remanded the case for a new trial. The Fourth Circuit ruled that the district court abused its discretion when it denied a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. The district court improperly ruled that the defendant did not meet the materiality prong of the Chavis test.
In November of 20007, Donald Roarty was carjacked by a man holding a revolver in Baltimore, Maryland. Roarty could not see the suspects face, and only noticed his eyes and dreadlocks. The suspect was also carrying a revolver. Three days later, undercover detectives conducted a drug buy with a man named Larry Pollin. Pollin was driving a Jeep that turned out to belong to Roarty. Pollin was not arrested for the drug buy or suspected carjacking, but was arrested and booked in December for an unrelated crime. Four days after the drug buy, an officer stopped a man who was a known drug dealer. This man pulled out a key which belonged to a Jeep that turned out to be Roarty’s. Shortly after that, the officer obser4ved the defendant, Tyrone Moore, another known gang member, walk by. Due to the defendant wearing a Baltimore Orioles shirt and an Orioles cap being found in the Jeep, the officer questioned Moore about the carjacking. Moore denied any involvement, and the other man was arrested for the carjacking. The police then prepared a photo lien-up for Roarty, including a photo of Moore. Roarty picked out Moore due to the eyes and the fact that he had dreadlocks. At trial, Moore attempted to prove Pollin committed the carjacking, and that Pollin had dreadlocks at the time. The prosecution provided a booking photo of Pollin dated December 31, 2007, in which Pollin had short hair. The prosecution also provided a picture of Pollin with dreadlocks, which was undated. At trial, an officer involved in the drug buy stated that Pollin had short hair during the drug buy. These testimonies, along with the dated photograph of Pollin with short hair, lead the jury to convict Moore. After the trial, Moore’s attorney contacted Pollin’s attorney who had a booking picture of Pollin from December 2007 where Pollin had dreadlocks. The error occurred due to a police department procedure where a defendant who changes his looks drastically will have a new photo put on file with the original booking date. The short hair picture, while dated December 31, 2007, was actually taken in January of 2009. Based on this evidence, Moore moved for a new trial based on the five prong Chavis test. The district court stated Moore met the first three prongs, dealing with evidence discovered after trial, due diligence, and the evidence not being cumulative. However, the court stated that Moore could not meet the materiality prong because Moore had presented two other disingenuous defenses and that placing the blame on Pollin was tangentially related to these defenses. The court did not reach the issue of whether the new evidence was likely to result in an acquittal. From this ruling, Moore appealed. Moore also appealed the introduction of witness testimony stating that Moore owned a revolver, and physical evidence showing Moore owned a semi-automatic pistol. Moore appealed the introduction of this evidence as improper propensity evidence.
The Fourth Circuit first looked to the five prongs of the Chavis test. The Court stated that Moore not only met the first three prongs, but that materiality was met because proving that Pollin was the likely carjacker was the main part of Moore’s defense. The identity of the carjacker was the main issue involved, thus the new photo was material to the issues involved in the trial. Without explaining its reasoning, the Court also held that Moore met the fifth prong of Chavis. Finally, while it was not dispositive, the Court ruled on the introduction of witness testimony and physical evidence of Moore’s gun ownership. The Court allowed the witness testimony of Moore owning a revolver, because it was relevant an necessary to proving his guilt. However, the evidence showing Moore owned a semi-automatic pistol was merely used to prove that Moore had a certain character and acted in accordance with this character. Thus it is improper propensity evidence under FRE 404(b).
-Jonathan M. Riddle