The appellants in U.S. v. Rushin were correctional officers at the Macon state Prison in Georgia who were charged and convicted of conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of justice stemming from alleged abuses of prisoners and the subsequent cover ups while they were working as members of the Correctional Emergency Response Team, (CERT) which is a specially trained group responsible for responding to and controlling disturbances as the Macon State Prison. Of the three issues raised only one was addressed in depth by this opinion and that was whether the district court improperly limited the cross examination of cooperating witness in violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. The case arose from the beatings of several inmates at the Macon State Prison by CERT members against certain inmates in retaliation for assaulting officers. The CERT members would then take the inmate to the medical unit and lie about how the inmates’ injuries were sustained.
Multiple members of the CERT entered plea agreements and cooperated with the government by testifying at trial. The defense counsel wanted to cross-examine the cooperating witnesses about their potential sentences had they not cooperated. The government requested a limitation on the defendants cross examining witnesses about to the specific numerical sentence that could have been imposed had they not cooperated as this would speak to the potential sentences that could be received by the defendants and encourage jury nullification.
The district court granted this motion explaining that the defendants were permitted to inquire into whether the cooperating witnesses about a plea agreement, that they face a more severe penalty prior to cooperating, and that the witness received or expected to receive benefits in exchange for their testimony (charges dropped or consideration of a sentence reductions). However, the defendants’ attorneys were not permitted to inquire as to the statutory sentencing range for charges against cooperating witnesses.