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Former New Mexico Jail Lieutenant's Prisoner Mistreatment Convictions Upheld

On February 28, 2012, the Tenth Circuit court of appeals upheld the convictions of a former guard lieutenant for abusing prisoners and falsifying records at two different New Mexico jails.

Based on speedy trial and exclusion-of-evidence grounds, John Gould, a federal prisoner, appealed his convictions for two counts of depriving an inmate of his rights under color of law and two counts of filing a false report. Gould's convictions were related to an incident when he was a lieutenant and shift leader at the Dona Ana County Detention center and a second incident when he worked at the Cibola County Detention Center.

In the first incident, Gould used excessive force--pepper spraying and beating a prisoner who was being held down and beaten by four or five guards with another forty-five guards watching. The prisoner was severely injured. In the second incident, Gould shot twelve rounds of nonlethal projectiles at a prisoner at close range causing deep bruising and a wound that became infected. In both cases, he filed false reports to cover up his actions.

Five officers involved in the first incident were also charged, entered plea bargains and testified against Gould. Following a nine-day jury trial, he was convicted on all counts and sentenced to four concurrent 96-month prison terms. However, a delay of 765 days occurred between his conviction and sentencing and a second delay of 623 days occurred between his sentencing and entry of final judgment. He appealed on delay of trial grounds and on the exclusion of some hearsay memoranda he composed regarding the first incident.

The Tenth Circuit held that Gould's failure to assert his right to a speedy trial and failure to show prejudice (other than that he would have been in a more comfortable prison in general population instead of in the jail's administrative segregation) were fatal to his speedy trial claims. Conditions of confinement are not considered when evaluating the prejudice due to the delay in a trial and failure to assert the right to a speedy trial alone is nearly fatal to any speedy trial claim.

The Tenth Circuit held that any error in not admitting the memoranda was harmless. The contents of the memoranda were introduced in trial during Gould's testimony and confirmed by prosecution witnesses. The exclusion of evidence is harmless if the excluded evidence comes before the court through other means. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Gould's conviction. See: United States v. Gould, 10th Cir., No. 11-2057.


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Related legal case

United States v. Gould