Prejudice And The Jury

How do corporate executive’s salary and benefits factor into juror’s decisions?

In a white-collar case, the government loves to shine the spotlight on corporate executives’ pay and perks, and for good reason. Research based on surveys about state and federal white-collar crime trials, found that jurors feel “betrayed” by the personal excesses that are believed to be behind America’s current economic strife.

How do you address prejudice when representing a rich, successful corporate executive?

Trial courts have broad discretion in determinations of admissibility based on considerations of relevance and prejudice, and these decisions are not lightly overruled. Move to exclude evidence of your client’s lifestyle, such as references to vacations, automobiles, real estate, use of a corporate jet and other perks. Citing Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402 and 403, you can argue that such evidence has no relevance to the offenses charged and will only serve to inflame the jury. United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 239 (1940), and progeny hold that appeals to “class prejudice” are improper and that trial courts should be alert to prevent them. If how your client is remunerated by his company or how he chooses to spend his compensation is irrelevant to the underlying charges, the government’s attempt to present this evidence is an improper appeal to class prejudice.

What will a successful motion in limine show?

While each case turns on its own facts, a successful motion in limine to keep the lifestyle evidence out will demonstrate that: (1) the government does not have direct or circumstantial evidence of the charged criminal activity; (2) the defendant’s money (used to perpetuate his or her lavish lifestyle) was available to your client from a legitimate source (whatever perks he enjoyed were known and sanctioned by the board and/or the shareholders and a part of the employment contract); and (3) the level of spending during the period of the alleged illegal activity was not atypical. Putting these points forward will bolster the defense’s argument that evidence of the defendant’s lifestyle and income are irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.