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Former Serbian prison camp guard convicted of concealing past in his citizenship application

Mitrovic appealed his conviction for unlawful procurement of naturalization in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1425(b) and 8 U.S.C. 1451(e) that arose from charges against him for concealing from immigration authorities his work as a Serbian prison camp guard. When Mitrovic applied for Unites States citizenship, he stated that he had never persecuted anyone on account of their race, religion, national origin, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. It was eventually discovered that he served as guard who beat prisoners at the Trnopolje prison camp run by the Serbians during their campaign of ethnic cleansing waged against the Bosniak Muslims and other ethnic groups. The government charged Mitrovic with making false statements in his citizenship application.

Prior to trial, his attorney filed motions to depose witnesses in Bosnia who had been in the Trnopolje prison camp. However, upon his defense team’s arrival in Bosnia, they learned that several witnesses refused to be deposed. Most of the witnesses who refused to be deposed had been in the Trnopolje prison camp for longer than those where sere deposed and had originally told Mitrovic’s defense team that they never saw Mitrovich as a guard at the camp. Upon returning to the United States Mitrovic filed a motion to allow the investigator who interviewed the recalcitrant witnesses to testify to what the witnesses said during their initial interviews: that they had been in the camp for an extended period and never saw Mitrovic. He argued that statements should be excepted from the hearsay rule or alternatively the statements should be admissible because not allowing the statements would deprive Mitrovic of his constitutional right to present a complete defense citing Chambers v. Mississippi.

At trial the government called seven witnesses who were prisoners at the Trnopolje prison camp who claimed to have seen Mitrovic working as a guard beating prisoners. During Mitrovic’s case he presented five witnesses by deposition who visited the camp or were prisoners there and they denied ever seeing Mitrovic there. Unlike many of the witnesses who refused to be deposed, most of these witnesses were only in the camp for short periods.

Mitrovic’s criminal lawyer argued on appeal that the district court violated his right to present a complete defense when it refused to admit hearsay statements from the defendant’s investigator who interviewed the recalcitrant witnesses. The witness were Muslim prisoners at the Trnopolje camp, many of them for longer than the witnesses who did testify for Mitrovic. According to Mitrovic they did not want to testify because they did not want to be perceived as helping Serb. These witnesses were outside the United States’ subpoena power and they had refused to be voluntarily testify at trial.

The appeals court upheld the application of the hearsay rule hear because the rule did not prevent Mitrovic from presenting a complete defense. The rule did not preclude him from introducing any factual evidence. Rather he was only unable to increase the quantity of witnesses who would tell the jury what the other witnesses already said. The court concluded that while this additional evidence may have benefited Mitrovic, it was not essential to a complete presentation of his defense. Similarly, the court found that Mitrovic failed to show his constitutional rights were violated pursuant to the factors outlined in Chambers.

The appeals court also found the trial court was within its discretion to deny Mitrovic’s request that the court take judicial notice of the Geneva Convention, so he could argue that Bosnia would not submit documentation that it conscripted Mitrovic into forced labor. Such conscription would have violated the Geneva Convention. Mitrovic’s federal criminal defense attorney wanted to show that Bosnia had conscripted him into forced labor.