Problems with the "I Didn't Mean to Do It" Defense

United States v. Beavers | 13-3198

July 2014

While corrupt Chicago politicians generally do not provide good examples of the political leadership that we deserve, their trials are often instructive on other matters. United States v. Beavers is no different.

Beavers, a former Chicago alderman and Cook County Commissioner, was convicted of filing false tax returns and obstructing the IRS (26 USC 7206(1) & 7212(a), respectively). On appeal, Beavers raised several evidentiary issues.

First, after being interviewed by IRS agents about his tax issues, Beavers attempted to take remedial actions by filing an amended return and re-paying one of his campaign funds for money he had “borrowed” several years earlier. The government sought to bar the “remedial evidence.” Its theory was that there was no “loan” in the first instance, but rather the money from the campaign fund was undeclared income (a theory the jury endorsed). Beavers sought to introduce the remedial evidence to demonstrate that he lacked intent to file a false return in the first instance. The District Court said the re-payment evidence would only be admissible (relevant Rule 401 and 403) if Beavers could connect the remedial action to his state of mind at the time he filed the erroneous tax returns – an evidentiary issue hurdle Beavers never accomplished at trial. The Seventh Circuit found the district court’s approach reasonable, noting that the analysis of relevancy in cases such as this needs to be done on a case-by-case basis, and citing to multiple cases that have found that steps taken after a defendant discovered he was under investigation is not relevant to that state of mind at the time the tax return was filed.

Beavers also took issue with the district court’s exclusion of his expert tax witness. The district court allowed what the defendants argued was an overly robust voir dire of the expert in part because Beavers failed to provide a sufficiently detailed disclosure under Rule 16. The Seventh Circuit found no error. Similarly, through his expert, Beavers sought to introduce statements Beavers made to the expert about Beavers’ understanding of the transactions – an approach clearly prohibited – as well as the expert’s view as to whether Beavers knowingly (and therefore “willingly”) filed a false tax return. Noting that Rule 704(b) prohibits experts from testifying as to whether a defendant had the requisite state of mind to commit the charged offense, the Seventh Circuit agreed that the expert’s testimony on this point was properly excluded. Perhaps if some of our elected leaders spent more time following the law in the first instance, we would not have to continue to read Seventh Circuit opinions affirming their convictions later.