United States v. Stewart (2006) – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Stewart, 433 F.3d 273 (2d Cir. 2006), Peter Bacanovic, Martha Stewart's stock broker, was convicted of making false statements during sworn testimony in front of the SEC. Id. at 281, 289. Bacanovic told the SEC that he had called Stewart about a particular stock and left a message with Stewart's personal assistant. Id. at 289.

He claimed only to have advised Stewart of the price at which the stock was currently trading, and requested that Stewart return his call. Id.

The personal assistant with whom Bacanovic spoke, however, testified that Bacanovic had asked that Stewart be notified that the stock would soon start losing value. Id. at 316.

To corroborate her testimony, the Government introduced a computerized phone log kept by the personal assistant, which read "Peter Bacanovic thinks the stock is going to start trading downward." Id.

On appeal to the Second Circuit, Bacanovic contended that his conviction for perjury could not stand under the two-witness rule, "because it rested on the uncorroborated testimony of one witness." Id. at 315.

Noting that the rule requires either the testimony of two witnesses, or the testimony of one witness and "other evidence of independent probative value," id., the Court stated:

The independent evidence must, by itself, be inconsistent with the innocence of the defendant. However, the corroborative evidence need not, in itself, be sufficient, if believed, to support a conviction. In other words the two-witness rule has not been construed to require the Government, in effect, to prove its case twice over.

The Supreme Court has explained that two elements must enter into a determination that corroborative evidence is sufficient: (1) that the evidence, if true, substantiates the testimony of a single witness who has sworn to the falsity of the alleged perjurious statement; (2) that the corroborative evidence is trustworthy. We have interpreted the standard to mean that corroborating evidence is sufficient if it tends to substantiate that part of the testimony of the principal prosecution witness which is material in showing that the statement made by the accused under oath was false. Id. at 315-16.

The Court concluded that the phone log made by Stewart's personal assistant was independently corroborative of the assistant's testimony. Id. at 316-17.

The phone log was admitted as a business record, and thus its trustworthiness was "derived from the circumstances under which it was created, not from its connection to the testifying witness." Id. at 316.

The Court also determined that the phone log was sufficiently accurate and contemporaneous for purposes of the two-witness rule and thus upheld Bacanovic's conviction. Id. at 317.