Friday, November 08, 2013

Absence During Jury Impanelment Did Not Affect Defendant’s Substantial Rights

United States of America v. Thomas, No. 12-60707 (Aug. 1, 2013) (Owen, Haynes, Lemelle)

            Dr. Cassandra Thomas, a licensed physician in the state of Mississippi, challenged her convictions of healthcare and Medicare fraud. The panel affirmed.
Thomas argued that the district court erred by denying her constitutional right to be present at all critical stages of her trial.  The panel rejected that argument, finding that Thomas failed to establish that her absence from jury impanelment affected the outcome of the district court proceedings.
In regards to Thomas’ argument that the court failed to apply the rule of lenity to dismiss the indictment against her at the pretrial phase, the panel held that other underlying facts in Thomas’ conviction undermine her arguments of ambiguity in the Medicare guidelines and affirmed the district court’s denial of Thomas’ motion to dismiss the indictment.
Thomas also claimed that evidence used in the trial, namely the Mississippi state licensure requirements for physical therapists, and the exclusion of an article concerning Medicare regulations, prevented her from providing an adequate argument of ambiguity in the physical therapy guidelines she followed. The panel drew attention to the fact that the excluded article was never offered into evidence during trial and that the change in Medicare regulations occurred after the fraud occurred. Thus, the panel affirmed the court’s decision to deny the motion in limine, exclude the article, and deem the regulation changes as irrelevant to the case.
Thomas’ final argument involving her denied motion for new trial based on ineffective assistance of trial counsel was dismissed because Thomas failed to prove that her counsel’s previous criminal charges and in-court actions posed any objectively unreasonable or prejudicial threat to her defense.  

Thanks to FPD Intern Matthew Gonzalez for this blog post.

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