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Rommie Woodard was convicted of possessing more than 100 kilograms of marijuana with the intent to distribute and sentenced to 60 months' imprisonment and 4 years' supervised release.
Last week, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Woodard's conviction, finding that the district court violated his Sixth Amendment confrontation rights when it refused to allow him to cross-examine a witness about a prior judicial determination that the witness was not credible.
Woodard was arrested at the port of entry in Gallup, New Mexico, when a New Mexico Motor Transportation Division (MTD) inspector and police officer discovered six duffle bags containing marijuana in the trailer of the tractor-trailer Woodard was driving.
During trial, the government offered the inspector's testimony that when Woodard opened the doors to the trailer, the inspector "smelled the odor of raw marijuana" and that the odor was "very strong." The officer likewise testified that he smelled the strong odor of marijuana when the doors were opened. No other witnesses testified about the odor of the marijuana in the trailer.
This wasn't the first time that the inspector had made such a marijuana-sniffing claim during a trial. The inspector had previously testified during the suppression hearing for another case that he smelled raw marijuana before searching the other defendant's trailer. In that case, a different federal judge had ruled that the MTD inspector was not credible.
During his own trial, Woodard wanted to cross-examine the inspector about his lack of credibility in the past trial. The judge granted the prosecution's motion in limine, barring that line of questioning under Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 403.
The Tenth Circuit decided that was the wrong call. In a matter of first impression, the Denver-based court found that a judicial credibility determination is admissible under FRE 608(b). (Brief thanks, EvidenceProf Blog.)
Adopting the Second Circuit's United States v. Cedeño factors, the appellate court decided that Woodard should have been permitted to impeach the MTD inspector's testimony.