Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, October 24, 2019


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Ninth Circuit:

‘Deliberate Ignorance’ Instruction Proper Where Accused Disclaims Knowledge Bills Were Fake


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A judge did not err in giving the jury a “deliberate ignorance” instruction in a case in which a defendant, charged with passing counterfeit currency, professed a lack of awareness that the bills were fake, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held.

In a memorandum opinion filed Tuesday, it affirmed the May 3, 2018 conviction by a jury of John Lamont Winn on two counts of uttering counterfeit obligations of the United States. He was sentenced by District Court Judge Troy L. Nunley of the Eastern District of California to two years and nine months in prison and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $16,600.

Evidence showed that Winn and two associates passed about $6,600 in phony $100 bills in less than one hour at an Indian tribal casino in Placer County, and three days later, Winn and another accomplice passed approximately $29,200 in counterfeit currency at two banks in Solano County.

The memorandum opinion, filed Tuesday, says:

“When a defendant claims to lack actual knowledge about an illegal act, the court may give a deliberate ignorance instruction so long as the evidence shows the defendant took deliberate steps to avoid learning of a fact while being aware of a high probability that such fact exists.”

The opinion goes on to say:

“Here, the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to allow the jury to infer that Winn acted with deliberate ignorance. The evidence showed that bank employees told Winn that the bills may be fake, multiple banks and casinos refused to accept or exchange his bills, and Winn tried passing more fake bills less than 48 hours after he was arrested for counterfeiting. The jury rationally could have concluded that Winn lacked actual knowledge the bills were fake only because he deliberately avoided learning that fact despite notice of a high probability it was true.”

The case is United States v. Winn, 18-10302.


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