News & Events

Courtney Forrest Wins Reversal of Client’s Conviction in Fourth Circuit Appeal

On January 3, the Fourth Circuit handed a victory to Kaiser PLLC client Laura Gallagher, overturning her convictions. Laura hired Kaiser after she was convicted in the Eastern District of Virginia for making false statements in support of her then-husband’s naturalization application. Kaiser partner Courtney Forrest argued the appeal and was the primary author of the briefs, with help from Matt Kaiser, Tony Miles, and former Kaiser counsel Emily Voshell.

“We are thrilled with the decision in Ms. Gallagher’s appeal,” Courtney said in a statement to Law360. “The panel’s decision reflects the reality that her convictions resulted from a fundamentally unfair trial that was tainted by multiple legal errors.  Appellate victories in criminal cases are rare, and the fact that Ms. Gallagher is such a deserving client makes this outcome that much more rewarding.”

The Fourth Circuit ruled in Laura’s favor on two of the issues we raised on appeal.  First, Laura’s husband had checked a box on the naturalization application that said he was “married” – which he was, even though the marriage was troubled. The government said this was a false statement and one of several statements that could have been the basis for the conviction on one of the counts. On appeal, we argued that it was wrong for the trial court to instruct the jury that it could convict Laura for making a false statement for saying something that was actually true. The Fourth Circuit agreed, finding that this error required that her conviction on that count be overturned.

Second, the government introduced a number of Facebook messages between our client and her then-husband showing that they were fighting or otherwise having marital problems. When our client tried to introduce other messages – from the same time period – showing that they were still close and had an ongoing romantic relationship, the trial court wouldn’t let that evidence go to the jury, saying that it was hearsay. The Fourth Circuit rejected that argument, holding that the messages were not hearsay. They weren’t introduced for the truth of what was in them but, rather, to show their state of mind when they made the statements and/or that their actions were in good faith. The appellate court concluded that this error could have affected the jury’s verdict, and thus required that the convictions on the other two counts be overturned as well.