United States v. Olsen

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 01-08-2013
  • Case #: 10-36063; 10-36064
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Senior District Judge Friedman for the Court; Circuit Judges Schroeder and Gould
  • Full Text Opinion

In a trial for the possession of biological toxins, undisclosed evidence refuting an expert witness’s credibility did not fundamentally change the result of the trial, because other “overwhelming” evidence, including extensive internet research concerning biological weapons and terrorism, supported the conviction.

Defendant, Kenneth Olsen, was convicted of knowingly possessing a biological agent, toxin, or delivery system for use as a weapon, after his co-workers found various test tubes full of castor beans, which are used to make the toxin ricin. During the trial, Olsen admitted to making the ricin, but claimed intellectual curiosity. The government’s expert witness testified about an Equate pill found in Olsen’s possession testing positive for ricin. The government used that expert testimony to argue that, because Olsen put the toxin on a delivery system, he intended to use it. Following Olsen’s conviction, incidents regarding the credibility of the government’s expert witness came to light and Olsen filed a motion to vacate his sentence in district court. The court denied the motion and Olsen appealed. On appeal, Olsen raised a number of claims, alleging a Brady violation, ineffective assistance of counsel, juror bias, and cumulative error. The central issue was whether there was a “reasonable possibility” that destroying the expert’s credibility may have changed the result of the trial. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the evidence, including Olsen’s extensive internet research relating to terrorism, poisons, and weaponry, was so “overwhelming” that the government’s failure to disclose any information about its witness did not render Olsen’s trial fundamentally unfair or violate his due process rights. AFFIRMED.

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