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United States v. Kahan

May 16, 1973

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
NORBERT NISAN KAHAN AND BERTHA LIMO NEWMAN, APPELLANTS.



Before Smith, Feinberg and Mansfield, Circuit Judges.

Author: Smith

J. JOSEPH SMITH, Circuit Judge:

Norbert Kahan and Bertha Newman were convicted on trial to the jury in the Southern District of New York (Constance Baker Motley, Judge), of conspiracy, bribery and falsifying visa extension applications. Kahan was also convicted of perjury before the grand jury. Both appeal. Kahan challenges his conviction on grounds of (1) improper striking of character evidence, (2) failure by the jury to consider each count separately, and (3) use in the government's direct case of Kahan's statements made while requesting appointed counsel as violative of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Newman contends that the government failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence an independent source for an in-court identification made subsequent to an improper showup and that the court improperly limited her impeachment of the government's witnesses. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse Kahan's conviction and affirm Newman's.

The principal charge involved a scheme to use Kahan's position as an Immigration inspector to obtain monies from non-resident aliens for improper extension of their visa permits. Aliens who in many cases could not speak English went to Newman who filled out their application papers, took $100 in excess of the normal application fee, and later returned an extended visa. Sixteen of those who had sought Newman's services testified at trial to the falsity of Newman's entries on the applications as set forth in the margin.*fn1

The evidence against Kahan was also extensive, although circumstantial.*fn2

Kahan's third claim of error raises the most substantial question. At arraignment Kahan stated that he was without assets and in need of appointed counsel. These statements were used against him on trial in the government's case in chief. Use of Kahan's false claims of lack of assets was claimed to be violative of his right against self-incrimination and right to counsel. We agree. United States v. Branker, 418 F.2d 378, 380 (2d Cir. 1969); see McGautha v. California, 402 U.S. 183, 239, 91 S. Ct. 1454, 28 L. Ed. 2d 711 (1971) (Douglas, J., dissenting). The government's claim that the privilege does not extend to false statements is not well taken. The ultimate truth of the matter asserted in the pre-trial request for appointed counsel is of no moment. See Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 393, 88 S. Ct. 967, 19 L. Ed. 2d 1247 (1968). A defendant should not be forced to gamble his right to remain silent against his need for counsel or his understanding of the requirements for appointment of counsel.*fn3 Nor does the mere fact that Kahan's statements were not made under oath take them without the protection of the Fifth Amendment. Addressed by the court as to his financial assets, defendant was required to speak in order to obtain appointed counsel. Cf. Couch v. United States, 409 U.S. 322, 93 S. Ct. 611, 615-616, 34 L. Ed. 2d 548 (1973).

The government urges us to hold any error there might be in admitting Kahan's exculpatory statements harmless. We must decline. Here, as the government admits, the evidence against Kahan was entirely circumstantial. Credibility was an essential factor, especially as two counts of the indictment charged the defendant with perjury.*fn4 Not only did the prosecution introduce the statements in its direct case and argue them in summation, the court also focused on these statements in its instructions to the jury.*fn5 As there is a reasonable possibility that the improperly admitted evidence contributed to the conviction, reversal is required. See Schneble v. Florida, 405 U.S. 427, 430-431, 92 S. Ct. 1056, 31 L. Ed. 2d 340 (1972).

Kahan's two other claims of prejudicial error are without merit. Appellant offered the testimony of one of the directors of his synagogue as to his good character; the testimony was stricken on the grounds that it was not proper character evidence and that the witness was not shown to be sufficiently acquainted with the defendant. Under the prevailing view character evidence must be based solely on reputation in the community; it must be hearsay and cannot be based on the witness' own personal assessment of the defendant or on specific acts reflecting certain qualities. Michelson v. United States, 335 U.S. 469, 477, 69 S. Ct. 213, 93 L. Ed. 168 (1948). Here the witness stated that he had never discussed nor heard discussion of defendant's reputation as far as truth and veracity because "... his actions show that he was a man of truth, veracity, integrity, and I think he's one of the best liked men in the synagogue." Kahan also attempted to bring in through this witness evidence of refusal by him to help the witness through Kahan's position with the Immigration agency, evidence clearly precludable under Michelson. See United States v. Beno, 324 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1963).

Prior to introducing character testimony defendant must establish the witness' acquaintance with defendant, the community and his circle of acquaintances. The court properly ruled that a witness who did not know enough about defendant to be aware of defendant's occupation lacked sufficient knowledge of defendant.*fn6

Appellant's claim that the jury's guilty finding on several counts of the indictment that had been stricken demonstrated that it had failed to consider each count separately and thus required a new trial is also without merit.*fn7 The jury answered as to each count and was clearly instructed that it must determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on each count.*fn8 It did in fact acquit Kahan on two counts. There is neither ambiguity in the verdict rendered, Glenn v. United States, 137 U.S.App.D.C. 120, 420 F.2d 1323 (D.C.Cir.1969), nor is the verdict an "inaccurate and insufficient hotchpotch...." United States v. DiMatteo, 169 F.2d 798 (3d Cir. 1948). Where separate verdicts are given on each count pursuant to specific instructions to find guilt separately on each count, conviction on all counts is not necessarily negatived by error affecting only one or several of numerous counts. Here, where 67 counts were before the jury the error was, in the words of defense counsel at trial, merely an "oversight," properly corrected as to the stricken counts without affecting the validity of the remaining counts.

Newman challenges the court's finding that the government had proved by clear and convincing evidence that Inspector Piccirillo's in-court identification was based on a source independent of a wrongful showup. United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 87 S. Ct. 1926, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1149 (1967); see, e.g., United States ex rel. Rivera v. McKendrick, 474 F.2d 259 (2d Cir., 1973). Piccirillo, engaged in surveillance of Kahan, testified that while so occupied he had twice observed Newman meeting Kahan. On both occasions the meetings were in daylight, or bright night, and Piccirillo came within several feet of the defendants during the meetings. Each observation was approximately twenty minutes in duration. Notes taken at the time of the meetings indicate that Kahan had met a woman who stood about shoulder high to Kahan, was fair, stocky and had long reddish dyed hair - more black than red. The description fits Newman.

The unlawful showup occurred six months after the observation. Piccirillo looked in a room for several seconds where Newman was sitting and indicated that she was the woman he saw meet Kahan. While Piccirillo did not link Newman with a photograph of her given him prior to the meeting it appears that the photograph was old, black and white, that it showed only her face and that she had a different hairstyle. Apparently it is appellant's physical stature that is distinctive, a factor not clearly shown in the picture. Piccirillo had observed another woman and specifically found her not to be the woman in the photograph; he did not make a similar finding as to Newman. The finding of an absence of a taint from the showup is fully supported by the record.*fn9

The court's limiting of impeachment by the defense of alien witnesses as to questions concerning prior convictions and a prior inconsistent statement was not error. As a general rule a witness' acts of misconduct are not admissible to impeach his credibility unless the acts result in a conviction. United States v. Sposato, 446 F.2d 779, 780-781 (2 Cir. 1971). So far as the offer was of criminal activity as bearing on likelihood of lying solely because other criminal acts had been done, the limitation imposed was proper. See United States v. Kahn and Teleprompter, 472 F.2d 272, 279-280 (2d Cir. 1973). Here, the court's limitation, such as it was, was imposed only after twelve of the sixteen witnesses had been questioned as to their deliberate falsifying of statements on visa applications. Witnesses who testified subsequent to the ...


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