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United States v. Keystone

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

August 22, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
RANDALL J. KEYSTONE, Defendant.

          Jennifer R. Bockhorst, Assistant United States Attorney, Abingdon, Virginia, for United States;

          Brian J. Beck, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES P. JONES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this prosecution for mailing threatening letters, the defendant has moved in advance of trial to prohibit the United States from introducing evidence under Rule 404(b) that the defendant had been convicted of sending threatening letters to other individuals in the past.

         The defendant, Randall J. Keystone, is an inmate at Red Onion State Prison, located in this judicial district. Keystone is charged with violations of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) by sending a letter on or about January 11, 2017, to an individual at two different addresses in Raleigh, North Carolina, threatening to shoot the victim in the head. See United States v. Keystone, No. 2:18CR00013, 2019 WL 289820 (W.D. Va. Jan. 22, 2019) (denying defendant's Motion to Dismiss Indictment).

         The Government filed a notice of its intent to offer the following evidence:

1) Randall J. Keystone previously sent threatening letters on or about November 30, 2006, June 7, 2008, July 27, 2008, August 14, 2008, and September 15, 2008. On March 9, 2010, he pled guilty in the Circuit Court of Wise County and City of Norton, Virginia to five counts of communicating a threat by letter, for these letters.
2) Randall J. Keystone previously sent a threatening letter on or about November 2, 2001. On August 21, 2002, he pled nolo contendre [sic] in the Circuit Court of Augusta County, Virginia to one count of sending a threatening letter, for this letter.
3) Randall J. Keystone previously sent a threatening letter on or about November 27, 2000. On September 14, 2001, he was convicted by a jury in the Circuit Court of Augusta County, Virginia to one count of sending threatening letters, for a letter sent on November 27, 2000.

         Notice of Intent 1-2, ECF No. 28. The Government contends that this evidence is admissible under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 404(b) because it “is relevant to the defendant's intent to transmit a communication containing a threat . . . and as to his lack of mistake or accident.” Id. at 2-3. The Government also asserts that the evidence is reliable and that its probative value is not substantially outweighed by its prejudicial value.

         The Fourth Circuit has set forth the following four-factor test for the admissibility of “bad acts” evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b):

(1) The evidence must be relevant to an issue, such as an element of an offense, and must not be offered to establish the general character of the defendant. In this regard, the more similar the prior act is (in terms of physical similarity or mental state) to the act being proved, the more relevant it becomes. (2) The act must be necessary in the sense that it is probative of an essential claim or an element of the offense. (3) The evidence must be reliable. And (4) the evidence's probative value must not be substantially outweighed by confusion or unfair prejudice in the sense that it tends to subordinate reason to emotion in the factfinding process.

United States v. Johnson, 617 F.3d 286, 296-97 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Queen, 132 F.3d 991, 997 (4th Cir.1997)). “The more closely that the prior act is related to the charged conduct in time, pattern, or state of mind, the greater the potential relevance of the prior act.” United States v. McBride, 676 F.3d 385, 397 (4th Cir. 2012).

         To prove guilt under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), the Government must prove that the defendant subjectively intended the mailing as a threat and that in fact it was a “true threat” - one that a reasonable recipient who is familiar with the context of the letter would ...


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