United States v. Driscoll, No. 19-3074 (D.C. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
ESPN published an article about Driscoll, the former president of a nonprofit organization, indicating that a former employee planned to file an IRS whistleblower complaint that might lead to charges of embezzlement and fraud against Driscoll. The following month, Driscoll participated in a child custody hearing against her ex-husband. Valdini, an IRS criminal investigator, watched testimony by a cousin of Driscoll’s ex-husband who was also the IRS whistleblower, and from Driscoll, telling Driscoll that he was a member of the public. Valdini had lunch with Driscoll’s ex-husband, who offered to aid in the criminal investigation.
Driscoll was indicted for fraud and tax evasion. Defense counsel asked the court to authorize discovery on whether the government had used a civil “audit” process to gather information for Driscoll’s criminal case. In reply to the government's opposition, Driscoll raised the custody hearing for the first time. The court denied her motion. At trial, Valdini’s conduct at the child-custody hearing was revealed. Government counsel, previously unaware of Valdini’s lunch outing, disclosed Valdini’s actions to the court, which held an evidentiary hearing. Driscoll unsuccessfully moved for a mistrial or dismissal, arguing that Valdini’s presence at the child-custody hearing violated her right against self-incrimination and that the government violated Brady by failing to disclose Valdini’s conduct.
The D.C. Circuit vacated Driscoll’s convictions, finding that the court’s anti-deadlock jury instructions likely coerced a unanimous verdict. The court found no prejudice on the Brady claim and did not address Driscoll’s pretrial discovery or Fifth Amendment arguments.