Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fourth Circuit Affirms District Court Decision in Tax Crimes Case to Limit Taxpayer's Reading Excerpts From Book on Cheek Willfulness Issue (10/24/20)

In United States v. Gerard, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 33341 (4th Circuit 10/22/20), here and govinfo here, the Court affirmed the taxpayer’s conviction for “for conspiracy to commit tax fraud” but remanded for the district court to address the elements of the obstruction of justice enhancement for sentencing purposes.  Although the opinion is an unpublished opinion, I thought the following from the opinion might be interesting to readers:

We further conclude that the district court did not err in barring Gerard from reading three books to the jury in support of his defense that he had a good faith belief that his tax minimization plan was lawful. We review a district court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion, and will only overturn a ruling that is arbitrary and irrational. United States v. Farrell, 921 F.3d 116, 143 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 269 (2019). Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence states that "[t]he court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." We agree with the district court that Gerard's request to read all three books would amount to something similar to the presentation of expert testimony, but without the opportunity for the Government to cross-examine the expert. Furthermore, as the district court observed, Gerard did not have to prove that his tax minimization system was lawful, only that his good faith belief in the lawfulness of his system was credible. See Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192, 201-02 (1991) (holding that a defendant in a criminal tax case can assert a defense of ignorance or misunderstanding of the tax law, leading to "a good-faith belief that he was not violating any of the provisions of the tax laws"). Moreover, as the court observed, Gerard's proposal to read all three books would confuse the jury. We note that, even though the court permitted Gerard to read excerpts from the books, Gerard chose to read excerpts from just one of the three books, suggesting that it was not so imperative that he read each book to the jury.

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