United States v. Bell

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 10-22-2014
  • Case #: 13-30163
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Judge Gould for the Court; Circuit Judges Hawkins and Graber
  • Full Text Opinion

There is a Sixth Amendment violation when a defendant is precluded from making closing arguments at trail; however, there is no constitutional right for a self-represented defendant to be prompted to make such arguments.

Raymond Bell (“Bell”), was involved in a tax scheme where an individual would file Form 1099-OIDs, falsely report and amount income tax withheld, and then rely on that false withholding amount to submit a fraudulent refund claim. Bell filed five fraudulent income tax returns, while encouraging others to partake in the tax scheme. As a result, Bell was convicted for making false, fictitious, and fraudulent claims against the United States Treasury, aiding in the filing of false tax returns, mail fraud, and criminal contempt. During trial, Bell represented himself and he did not make a final closing argument. The jury convicted Bell on all charges. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit was presented with the task of determining whether the district court’s failure to prompt Bell to give a closing argument violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right. The panel first recited Herring v. New York, which states there is a “constitutional right to assistance of counsel includ[ing] the right for [the] defense counsel to make a closing summation to the jury.” However, the panel found that Bell was not precluded from making a closing argument at trial. Furthermore, the panel found that Bell had a meaningful opportunity to give a closing argument, but Bell remained silent. The panel held that there is no precedent stating that there is a constitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment for a self-represented defendant to not be prompted to give a closing argument. As a result, the panel did not find a violation of Herring or the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part, and REMANDED.

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