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United States v. Warwick

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 30, 2017




         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the United States' Motion in Limine to Exclude Irrelevant Evidence. [Doc. 92');">92] The Court, having considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, hereby GRANTS-IN-PART and DENIES-IN-PART the Motion.

         The United States seeks to prevent Defendant from testifying or otherwise presenting evidence that "his criminal acts are excusable or otherwise justifiable because: a) [Defendant believes] that the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution supersedes 18 U.S.C. §92');">922(g) rendering the statute unconstitutional; and b) he makes methamphetamine as a medication to treat his ailments." [Doc. 92');">92, p. 2] The specifics of the parties' arguments are discussed as necessary below.


         Defendant's Belief about the Second Amendment

         Defendant argues that his testimony concerning his belief that the Second Amendment allows him to possess firearms "regardless of his alleged status as either a drug user or a convicted felon" is relevant and permissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 402. [Doc. 104');">104, pp. 1, 4] Defendant relies on analysis by the Court in United States v. Courtney, 960 F.Supp.2d 1152, 1163-1168, 1196-97 (D.N.M. 2013) (discussing the Framer's view of the Sixth Amendment and concluding that certain Framers believed that juries should have the power of nullification). Accordingly, Defendant argues that:

While Mr. Warwick may not have a right to a jury instruction regarding jury nullification, the power of a jury to find a defendant not guilty despite the evidence still exists. As such, the reasons behind Mr. Warwick's alleged possession of the firearms and his beliefs surrounding his understanding of the Second Amendment become relevant as they may assist the jury in rendering a verdict in the matter. Should the jury wish to exercise its role as arbiter of the fairness of the law and its applicability in this matter, it must have information from the defendant to help guide and support its decision making process.
Mr. Warwick is of the belief that application of 18 U.S.C. § 92');">922 to him is inappropriate given the freedoms granted by the Second Amendment and that the jury in his case should have the opportunity to weigh in on the fairness of the statute. Accordingly, since a jury could rule in favor of Mr. Warwick simply because they believe that the law is unfair, Mr. Warwick's beliefs concerning the Second Amendment are relevant because it might help a juror make such a decision.

[Doc. 104');">104, p. 4');">p. 4] Neither the rules of evidence nor controlling case authority supports Defendant's position.

         "Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401. It is the Court's duty to instruct the jury as to what the law is, and, accordingly, Mr. Warwick's belief as to what the Second Amendment means is irrelevant. Fed.R.Evid. 401, 402; United States v. Grismore, 546 F.2d 844, 849 (10th Cir. 1976) ("It is well-established that the court instructs the jury as to the rules of law and that the jury applies the facts as they find them to those rules.. . .

         A criminal defendant is not, of course, entitled to have the jury instructed that they can disregard the law." (Internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); see also Braswell v. United States, 224 F.2d 706, 710 (10th Cir. 1955) (holding that mistaken understanding regarding one's status as a person prohibited from possessing a firearm was a mistake of law, and thus, "no defense").

         Defendant relies on the decision in Courtney to argue that jury nullification has a role within the judicial system, and therefore, testimony which would "help a juror make" a decision that a "law is unfair" should be permitted. [Doc. 104');">104, pp. 2-4] I am not persuaded. The discussion in Courtney regarding the role of jury nullification was dicta and is not controlling, either on the issue of jury instructions (the issue in Courtney) or on the issue of evidentiary matters (the issue here). In Courtney, the Court stated that the defendant

perhaps should be afforded the opportunity to have the Court instruct the jury, or his counsel be allowed to tell the jury, that, if it finds "the law arising in the case is different from that which the court advances, " the jurors are "bound by their oaths, by their duty to their creator and themselves, to pronounce according to their own convictions, " rather than according to the dictates of the law.

Courtney, 960 F.Supp.2d at 1196. However, the Courtney court ultimately held that, while it believed that current Supreme Court and Tenth Circuit law refusing to allow the Court to instruct a jury regarding the possible penalties for conviction is "inconsistent with the Framers' intent in ratifying the Sixth Amendment jury trial right, " controlling law required denial of the requested instruction. Id. at 1196-97. The defendant ...

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