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Government of the Virgin Islands v. Fahie

August 16, 2005


On appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands, Appellate Division, Division of St. Thomas and St. John. District Court Judges: Raymond L. Finch, Thomas K. Moore, and Maria M. Cabret. (Dist. Ct. Crim. Appeal No. 01-cr-00324).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fuentes, Circuit Judge


Argued December 14, 2004



This appeal concerns when, if ever, dismissal with prejudice is an appropriate remedy for a violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands dismissed a charge against Defendant-Appellant Jareem Fahie for possession of an unlicensed firearm after finding that the government failed to disclose a firearms trace summary in violation of Brady and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(1)(F). The District Court of the Virgin Islands, Appellate Division, reversed, concluding that, although the government had violated its obligation under Brady, the Territorial Court erred in dismissing the case with prejudice. Because we conclude that dismissal with prejudice is appropriate only under exceptional circumstances not present here, we will affirm the judgment of the Appellate Division.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On the evening of July 8, 2001, Jareem Fahie was shot while sitting in his mother's car. Although he sustained numerous gunshot wounds, he was able to drive himself to the hospital where he was interviewed by a Virgin Islands police officer. Fahie informed the officer that he had dropped off two friends and was in the vicinity of a local hotel when a passenger from another car exited his car, approached Fahie and shot him. When asked if the car parked outside the hospital was his, Fahie told the officer that it was. When the officer went out to search the car for evidence of the shooting, she observed part of a sawed-off shotgun, about two-feet long, sticking out of a black nylon bag in the backseat. She reentered the hospital to ask Fahie if he had a license for the weapon; when he responded that he did not, the officer arrested Fahie for possession of an unlicensed weapon.

Fahie was charged with possession of an unlicensed firearm (the sawed-off shotgun) in violation of 14 V.I.C. § 2253(a). He pled not guilty and the case went to trial in the Territorial Court on October 24, 2001. At trial, Detective David Monoson was called to testify as to the results of a test firing of the weapon. In the course of cross-examination, Monoson revealed that he had run a trace of the gun based on its serial number through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and had received a report (the "ATF Report") over three months before the trial that contained the name of the gun's registered owner, an individual living in Virginia. According to the ATF Report, the gun had not been reported stolen. Defense counsel immediately objected and argued that the ATF Report was exculpatory, material evidence that had been withheld in violation of Brady*fn1 and Rule 16(a)(1)(F)*fn2 . The government argued that the ATF Report was not Brady material and was exempt from discovery under Rule 16(a)(2).*fn3 In an oral opinion, the trial court held that the information relating to the gun ownership constituted Brady material, and that nondisclosure prejudiced Fahie's due process rights. The trial court also ruled that nondisclosure was a violation of Rule 16(a)(1)(F), which requires, upon request, disclosure to the defendant of certain "Reports of Examinations and Tests." The Government filed a timely appeal in the Appellate Division of the District Court.

The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's ruling that withholding of the ATF Report constituted a Brady violation. However, the Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court that dismissal with prejudice was a proper sanction for the Brady violation, and thus reversed the trial court on that issue. Based on this ruling, the Appellate Division determined that the question whether dismissal was an appropriate sanction for a Rule 16(a)(1)(F) violation was moot. Nonetheless, the Appellate Division went on to decide that the trial court's dismissal based on the Rule 16 violation was also an abuse of discretion. Finally, the Appellate Division rejected Fahie's motion to dismiss on Double Jeopardy grounds.

On appeal, Fahie argues that dismissal was an appropriate remedy for either the Brady violation or the Rule 16(a)(1)(F) violation. The Government argues that there was no Brady violation and that the firearms trace summary was exempt from disclosure under Rule 16(a)(2); it also argues that dismissal with prejudice was, in any event, an improper remedy for either violation.

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The District Court had jurisdiction over the Government's appeal pursuant to 48 U.S.C. § 1493. We exercise jurisdiction over this appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and 48 U.S.C. § 1613.

In reviewing a trial court's remedy for an alleged Brady violation, we review conclusions of law de novo and review any findings of fact, where appropriate, for clear error. SeeUnited States v. Thornton, 1 F.3d 149, 158 (3d Cir. 1993) ...

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