United States v. Cummings, No. 15-2035 (2d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Defendant Cummings was convicted of drug and firearms charges related to causing the death of a person. The Second Circuit held that the district court erred by admitting hearsay evidence of a death threat he allegedly made against a government witness, and such error was not harmless. In this case, the hearsay was especially toxic because it created a grave risk that the jury would use it as evidence of Cummings's murderous propensity. The court explained that risk was heightened by the lack of a limiting instruction, the similarity between the death threat and the underlying charges, the government's argument on summation suggesting that the threat was substantive proof of Cummings's guilt, and his inability to cross‐examine the third‐party declarant who heard his alleged threat. Accordingly, the court vacated Cummings's convictions and remanded for a new trial. The court also granted Defendant Nwanko's counsel's Anders motion to withdraw as counsel and issued an order simultaneously with this opinion.