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United States v. Feldman

decided: May 1, 1970.


Kalodner and Van Dusen, Circuit Judges, and Fullam, District Judge.

Author: Van Dusen


VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

The defendant, Robert Feldman, was found guilty on October 24, 1968, after trial to a jury, of concealing assets of a bankrupt from a receiver, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ยง 152. His sentence, imposed on February 13, 1969, required a period of confinement. In his appeal from that sentence, the defendant contends: first, that the indictment should have been dismissed because of prejudicial delay between the alleged commission of the crime and the return of his indictment; and, second, that judgment of acquittal should have been entered at the close of the Government's case.

The defendant purchased Store Merchandisers, Inc., a wholesale distributor of drug supplies and beauty care items, on December 22, 1964, when the company was in serious financial difficulty. The indictment alleges that on January 15, 1965, the defendant (Treasurer of Store Merchandisers) concealed three truckloads of Store Merchandisers' property. An involuntary petition of bankruptcy, alleging that Store Mercandisers was bankrupt, was filed on February 4, 1965, and on March 24, 1965, after the defendant had filed the required forms on which he failed to list himself or his separately owned retail drug outlet as a debtor of Store Merchandisers, the corporation was adjudicated a bankrupt. Following his examination of certain of the bankrupt's records and of former employees at hearings held in April and May 1965, the Trustee in Bankruptcy recommended to the United States Attorney that an investigation be initiated, with a view toward prosecution of the defendant for concealing assets of the bankrupt. The federal agent assigned to the investigation interviewed the defendant in August 1965; although it is possible that he may have interviewed other witnesses in the summer of 1965, it does not appear that there were any further interviews after August 1965. On approximately December 13, 1965, the Trustee notified the agent that he intended to destroy all the records of the bankrupt,*fn1 as is customary in the usual bankruptcy case. The Trustee offered the records to the agent, who, after consultation with the United States Attorney, informed the Trustee that the Government had no objection to their destruction. The records were then destroyed, without notice to the defendant.*fn2 The defendant was first indicted on January 4, 1967, for making a false oath to a referee in bankruptcy; this charge has not been prosecuted. On December 15, 1967, a second indictment was returned, under which the defendant was subsequently convicted, as recited above. The Voluntary Defender was appointed to represent the defendant on March 19, 1968.*fn3

Alleged Prejudicial Delay in the Return of the Indictment

When the defendant was arraigned,*fn4 his counsel orally moved to dismiss (p. 54 of Document 22) the indictment on the basis of an oral statement of the alleged prejudice resulting from the delay in the indictment, namely, that defendant had been deprived of the ability to prove by written evidence from the records destroyed in December 1965 the truth of the oral statements that he proposed to make on the stand in his own defense.*fn5 Oral argument was heard by the District Court at that time. However, the defendant did not offer to call the receiver-trustee, the counsel for such fiduciary, the bankrupt's accountant, or anyone else*fn6 to testify that invoices or other records covering the goods in the allegedly concealed truckloads of merchandise were among the destroyed records.*fn7

In opposing the Motion, the Government stated that the defendant had been alerted to the importance of preparing a defense through an investigation of him by an F.B.I. agent in the presence of his counsel in August 1965, at which time he had been warned of his rights. The Government explained that the delay in indictment had been caused by the absence of helpful records,*fn8 necessitating a continuing of the investigation in order to establish the alleged offense by witnesses rather than documents. Rebutting the defendant's claim that the records "may" have been helpful to him, the Government explained that not only were the records useless, but also that its witnesses would testify that the defendant told the bankrupt's employees not to prepare any invoices covering the concealed goods. The Motion to Dismiss was denied on October 15, 1968.

We agree with the recognition in Ross v. United States, 121 U.S.App.D.C. 233, 349 F.2d 210 (1965), relied on by the defendant, that, in treating a defendant's claim of prejudicial delay, his rights under the due process clause must be determined by a balance between the need of law enforcement officials to delay prosecution and the prejudice to the defendant caused by this delay:

"[Although the delay in charging the defendant was a conscious choice, that] alone does not condemn it, because the Department is motivated solely by a purpose to enhance its effectiveness in the public interest. But the Constitution contemplates a separate interest in fair procedures for the citizen faced with the loss of his liberty by reason of criminal charges. When interests of this nature impinge upon each other, as they have a way of doing, they must be accommodated. A balance must be struck, if one or the other is not to be sacrificed completely."

349 F.2d at 213. The court in Ross concluded that there was "no inevitable necessity" for the sacrifice of either of these interests since revision of police practices could prevent prejudice to the defendant. Compare Jones v. United States, 131 U.S. App. D.C. 88, 402 F.2d 639, 641 (D.C.Cir. 1968).

We do not believe, however, that the defendant has presented sufficient evidence of prejudice in this case to justify a reversal of the District Court's determination not to dismiss. See United States v. Childs, 415 F.2d 535 (3rd Cir. 1969). At the pre-trial hearing, the court was presented with a Government assertion that no helpful documents were contained in the records and a defense assertion only that there "may" have been some helpful evidence. The defendant presented no testimony whatsoever to fortify this claim, nor was there any testimonial denial that the defendant had not been given notice sufficient to alert him to the importance of preparing a defense at the August 1965 interview.*fn9 Under these circumstances, the District Court was entirely justified in denying the motion.*fn10

Alleged Error in Denying Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

On a motion for judgment of acquittal at the close of the Government's case, the evidence and the inferences to be drawn from it must be taken in the light most favorable to the Government. E.g., Hale v. United States, 410 F.2d 147 (5th Cir. 1969); see Crawford v. United States, 126 U.S.App.D.C. 156, 375 F.2d 332, 334 (1967). Where the motion is waived by the presentation of evidence by the defendant in his own behalf and then renewed at the close of all the evidence, as in this case, the ...

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