United States v. Teel ( 2008 )

                        FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT United States Court of Appeals
                                                       Fifth Circuit
                                                                            November 13, 2008
                                           No. 07-60897                   Charles R. Fulbruge III
                       Appeal from the United States District Court
                         for the Southern District of Mississippi
                                 USDC No. 1:06-CR-79-1
    Before REAVLEY, CLEMENT, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.
           Defendant-Appellant Ryan Michael Teel, a former booking officer at the
    Harrison County Adult Detention Center in Harrison County, Mississippi,
    appeals his convictions and sentences for (1) conspiring to deprive inmates at the
    jail of their constitutional rights while acting under color of law, in violation of
    18 U.S.C. § 241; and (2) willfully depriving inmate Jesse Lee Williams of his
    right to be free from the use of excessive force under color of law, thereby causing
             Pursuant to 5TH CIR. R. 47.5, the court has determined that this opinion should not
    be published and is not precedent except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH CIR.
    R. 47.5.4.
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    his death, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242. For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM.
          Teel asserts that the district court improperly concluded that he failed to
    make a prima facie showing of race or gender discrimination under Batson v.
    476 U.S. 79
    106 S. Ct. 1712
     (1986), when the Government used five
    of its six peremptory challenges to strike white males from the jury pool. Teel
    mischaracterizes the court’s ruling. The court actually assumed the existence
    of a prima facie case of discrimination, considered the Government’s proffered
    gender and race-neutral reasons for its peremptory strikes—none of which were
    challenged by Teel—and found that Teel had not proven unlawful discrimination
    in violation of Batson. We find no clear error. See, e.g., United States v.
    100 F.3d 399
    , 404-05 (5th Cir. 1996).
          Teel also challenges several evidentiary rulings by the district court,
    including allowing Government witnesses to provide “legal opinions” regarding
    excessive force, and permitting a Government expert, Dr. James Doty, to testify
    beyond the scope of his pre-trial disclosure pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 16. The
    evidence supporting Teel’s conviction was overwhelming.          Teel also offers
    nothing more than conclusory and speculative assertions of prejudice resulting
    from Dr. Doty’s challenged testimony. We see no error, and the admission would
    have been harmless in any event. See, e.g., United States v. Yanez Sosa, 
    513 F.3d 194
    , 203 n.4 (5th Cir. 2008) (assuming that Rule 16 disclosure requirements
    were violated, but concluding no prejudice was shown); United States v.
    343 F.3d 423
    , 435 & n.11 (5th Cir. 2003) (concluding that a police
    officer’s improper testimony about the reasonableness of a police shooting was
    harmless in the face of “overwhelming” evidence against the defendant). We
    further conclude that the district court properly barred Teel’s expert from going
    beyond consideration of the conduct to offer legal conclusions regarding whether
    the assault on Williams constituted excessive force. See Williams, 343 F.3d at
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    435 (explaining that FED. R. EVID. 704(a) “‘does not allow a witness to give legal
    conclusions’” (internal citation omitted)).
          Teel’s assertion that 18 U.S.C. § 242 is unconstitutionally vague is
    unmeritorious. The facial constitutionality of § 242 was settled long ago, Screws
    v. United States, 
    325 U.S. 91
    , 103-04, 
    65 S. Ct. 1031
    , 1036-37 (1945), as was the
    statute’s application to the right to be free from excessive force under color of
    law, see United States v. Stokes, 
    506 F.2d 771
    , 776 (5th Cir. 1975) (construing
    § 242 to encompass a due process right to be free from unreasonable,
    unnecessary, or unprovoked force by state actors). In light of this precedent,
    Teel cannot demonstrate that he lacked fair notice that beating a restrained
    inmate to death would be unlawful under the Constitution and, hence, subject
    to criminal liability under § 242. See, e.g., United States v. Lanier, 
    520 U.S. 259
    117 S. Ct. 1219
    , 1228 (1997) (holding criminal liability under § 242 “may
    be imposed for deprivation of a constitutional right if . . . ‘in the light of pre-
    existing law the unlawfulness [under the Constitution is] apparent’” (internal
    citation omitted)).
          Additionally, contrary to Teel’s contentions, the district court did not abuse
    its discretion by refusing to instruct the jury separately on self-defense. The
    instructions provided by the court regarding willfulness and excessive force
    fairly and adequately encompassed Teel’s theory that he struck Williams in self-
    defense. Therefore, the absence of a specific self-defense instruction did not
    impair Teel’s ability to advance that defense.        See, e.g., United States v.
    420 F.3d 397
    , 411 (5th Cir. 2005).
          Nor do we find that the district court abused its discretion by unsealing an
    affidavit voluntarily filed by Teel in support of a pretrial motion and making it
    available to the Government for impeachment purposes. Teel’s affidavit was not
    compelled testimony that implicates the Fifth Amendment, and his decision to
    testify in his own defense “waive[d] his fifth amendment privilege against self-
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    incrimination at least to the extent of cross-examination relevant to issues raised
    by his testimony.” United States v. Beechum, 
    582 F.2d 898
    , 907 (5th Cir. 1978)
    (en banc). Teel further asserts that unsealing the affidavit violated the rule
    limiting cross-examination “to the subject matter of the direct examination and
    matters affecting the credibility of the witness.” FED. R. EVID. 611(b). Rule
    611(b), however, has no bearing on the court’s anticipatory ruling allowing the
    Government to review the contents of Teel’s affidavit for potential use during
    cross-examination.    Notably, too, the Government’s limited uses of Teel’s
    affidavit to impeach him fell squarely within the scope of his direct testimony
    regarding the use of force by fellow booking officers, in compliance with Rule
          Finally, Teel asserts that the district court violated Apprendi v. New
    530 U.S. 466
    120 S. Ct. 2348
     (2000), and its progeny by basing his life
    sentences on the court’s own classification of the underlying offense as second
    degree murder, instead of submitting that issue to the jury. Apprendi does not
    apply except when those facts (other than a prior conviction) found by a judge
    increase a sentence above the statutory maximum. Id. at 490, 120 S. Ct. at
    2362-63; see also Cunningham v. California, 
    549 U.S. 270
    , 274-75, 
    127 S. Ct. 856
    , 860 (2007). The statutes in this case authorize a maximum punishment of
    life imprisonment or the death penalty for violations resulting in death of the
    victim. 18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242. Because the jury found that Teel violated §§ 241
    and 242 and that Williams died as a result, the court did not violate Apprendi
    by imposing a sentence that the jury verdict alone permitted. See, e.g., Blakely
    v. Washington, 
    542 U.S. 296
    , 303-04, 
    124 S. Ct. 2531
    , 2537 (2004) (construing
    Apprendi and Ring v. Arizona, 
    536 U.S. 584
    122 S. Ct. 2428
     (2002), to prohibit
    a judge from inflicting punishment that the jury’s verdict, standing alone, does
    not allow). Additionally, as noted by the district court, United States v. Booker,
    543 U.S. 220
    125 S. Ct. 738
     (2005), rendered the Federal Sentencing Guidelines
                                     No. 07-60897
    advisory only. See United States v. Mares, 
    402 F.3d 511
    , 519 (5th Cir. 2005).
    Under Booker, it was appropriate for the district judge to make factual findings
    by a preponderance of the evidence to determine the applicable Guidelines
    range.   Id.   Accordingly, the district court did not violate Teel’s Sixth
    Amendment right to a jury trial by imposing life sentences.