Couple Claims Government Agents Tried to Influence Jury

The possibility that Internal Revenue Service agents and Justice Department lawyers "glared" at jurors during a recent trial will be the subject of a federal appeals court hearing, the New York Times reported.

A Nevada couple, on trial for tax evasion, claims the federal officers attempted to intimidate the jurors into reaching their guilty verdict. The hearing could result in the overturning of the tax evasion convictions of Martin Rutherford, a Reno chiropractor, and his wife, Nanja. Pending appeal, their sentences of five months in prison each and payment of $141,813 in restitution for taxes owed in 1992 and 1993 have been stayed, the Times reported.

"Nine to 15 IRS agents and Justice Department people sat in on our trial, which lasted 19 days, and then under oath some of them initially denied they had been there," Martin Rutherford said. "Then they changed their story a bit to say they were there for training."

Rutherford claims that he and his wife are the victims of a phony lawyer whose tax advice landed them in hot water with the IRS. When they hired a proper attorney, the IRS seized even more money from the couple than they owed in taxes.

The Rutherfords asked U.S. District Court Judge Edward Reed to set aside the verdict due to what they saw as intimidating behavior on the part of federal agents present during the trial. Some of the agents claim they were there for training purposes.

The jury foreman and two other jurors submitted affidavits in which they said jurors discussed the prospect of retaliation by the IRS if they acquitted the Rutherfords, the Times reported.

Reed, after the hearing, concluded that the IRS and Justice Department agents did not intend to influence the jury. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that finding Friday and said the wrong legal standard was applied.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that the issue in question is not the intent of the government agents, but whether the jurors had reason to believe they were being tampered with, the Times reported. The appeals court did not find the jury had been influenced and ordered a hearing into the matter.

The appeals court directed Reed to reinstate or vacate the convictions based on whether he finds that the government influenced the jury's verdict, even unintentionally, the Times reported.

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