Kottwitz: Eleventh Circuit Holds Trial Court Should Have Given Good Faith Defense Jury Instruction

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Kottwitz. This opinion is important because it explains in detail when a trial court must instruct the jury on good faith reliance on the advice of his advisor. The Court also addressed the sufficiency of the evidence on defendants’ Klein conspiracy and tax fraud and evasion charges.

In holding that the trial court had abused its discretion in refusing to give the good faith reliance instruction, the Court thoroughly reviewed the law regarding such instructions. The instruction is designed to refute the government’s proof of the defendant’s intent. “The defendant bears an ‘extremely low’ threshold to justify the good faith reliance instruction and does not need to prove good faith.”

White-collar criminal defense attorneys often deal with good faith reliance issues and should keep Kottwitz in mind when arguing for such an instruction. The “good faith” defense is often the single most important issue when prosecutors go after a person based on what he or she did in the business context. A person who acts in good faith cannot be guilty where he or she did not intend to break the law. The lawyers in this case struggled to get this concept across to the jury, but were thwarted in their efforts when the trial judge took a different view of the appropriate instruction for the jury.

The full opinion is available here, including Judge Birch’s dissent on the issue of sufficiency of the evidence of the conspiracy.

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