And the Award for Best Recent Oscars Reference in a Reported Case Goes to . . .

It’s that time of year again – The Oscars.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was tasked with selecting the best of the best in the motion picture industry.  Those watching the Oscars saw the best picture of the year, the best director, et cetera.  As we watched the awards ceremony play out, we here at Abnormal Use became curious about whether we could find any good Oscar references in reported caselaw.   What we found was a Seventh Circuit opinion in which defendant convicted of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, among other things, took issue with a prosecutor’s reference to scenes from The Godfather in closing argument:

At the close of the government’s case (which also happened to be the end of all the evidence since Kincannon declined to present anything), Kincannon filed a motion for a judgment of acquittal, which the district court denied. The government’s closing argument came next, during which the prosecutor made an analogy to an Academy-Award-winning movie: The Godfather. Recounting a pivotal scene where the director simultaneously presented assassinations orchestrated by the protagonist, Michael Corleone, the prosecutor explained that he, like the movie’s director, would attempt to seamlessly tell the ‘story of what happened’ in this case. The prosecutor also recounted Thorburg’s drug-fueled demise, noting that ‘it illustrates the power of this stuff and why we’re on a serious purpose today in considering the charges against Mr. Kincannon.’ Eventually, the jury found Kincannon guilty on both the distribution and the conspiracy counts and rendered a special verdict, finding that the conspiracy involved 500 grams or more of methamphetamine.

United States v. Kincannon, 567 F.3d 893, 896 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court saw nothing wrong with the reference, finding that if it’s good enough for the Oscars, it’s good enough for it:

It would be one thing if the government compared Kincannon to Michael Corleone, an organized crime kingpin responsible for murders and a whole host of other criminal activity. See Alvarez v. McGinnis, 4 F.3d 531, 534 (7th Cir.1993). Such an analogy would be utterly unmoored from the record, which is probably why the government made no such connection. It was not Corleone’s criminality, but Francis Ford Coppola’s direction that was at the heart of the prosecutor’s closing remarks. The prosecutor alluded to the pivotal point in the movie where Corleone attends his godchild’s christening. Coppola cuts to various scenes of assassinations orchestrated by Corleone as a priest dubbed him the child’s godfather. The poetic implication is that the murders, like the priest’s liturgy, made Michael the godfather of the Corleone crime family. As the prosecutor said, “[n]ow that is how you present events that occur simultaneously in a movie so the viewer can understand it very easily.” We agree, as did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who nominated Coppola for an Oscar for best director. The prosecutor explained to the jury that he would try to do orally what Coppola did in his film-that is, tie together the events that occurred during the two controlled buys into one seamless story. To do so as eloquently as Coppola is a tall task, but there is certainly nothing improper about the attempt.

Id. (footnotes omitted). Could it be that the Oscars not only influenced the trial, but that it also dictated the outcome of the appeal?  Probably not.

We hope that we’ve enriched your awards season.  Carry on with the heated discussions about the best dressed, snubs, and the like.  The only thing this author will add is that no snub will ever be as egregious as the snub of Leatherheads, the breathtaking piece in which “an enterprising pro football player convinces America’s too-good-to-be-true college football hero to play for his team and keep the league from going under.”  Perhaps this author is biased because he put his heart and soul into that film (as an extra), but the Oscars obviously missed something that the ESPY awards and Australian Film Institute saw. Until next year!

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