Jacksonville, FL — The daughter of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown has been denied a blanket excuse from taking the stand during her mother’s federal fraud trial.
Shantrel Brown’s attorney filed a motion this week aiming to squash the subpoena issued to her by the US Attorney’s Office, saying Brown intended to plead the Fifth and remain silent on any questions from the government. A District Judge Friday denied that motion.
The motion from Shantrel Brown claimed the only purpose for issuing a subpoena on her was “for the atmospheric effect upon the jury to see the defendant’s daughter invoke her Fifth Amendment rights”. Her attorney said she intends to invoke the Fifth on any question, so calling her to the stand solely to have her invoke is “improper”.
Prosecutors had fought Brown’s motion, calling it “premature” because it’s founded in the belief that a witness can refuse to answer questions without knowing what the questions will be. The government says Brown has the right to assert her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, but that some of what she may be called to testify on does not deal with her personal actions. Specifically, the court filing highlights that Brown shares a home with her mother in Virginia and would naturally know about her habits and often her whereabouts. Prosecutors further say there is evidence Brown planned and attended events in her mother’s honor.
Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, her former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, and the head of One Door For Education Carla Wiley are all accused of collecting more than $800,000 in donations to One Door- which they represented as an education charity- and using that money for personal expenses instead. Wiley and Simmons have previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the US Attorney's Office as prosecutors build their case. Brown does not intend to take a plea deal and has said she will take the stand during trial. That trial is slated to start Wednesday, with jury selection on Monday.
The US Attorney’s Office further noted it’s possible the defendant will try to shift blame for her alleged role on to her daughter. As such-and with all of these factors considered- prosecutors say Shantrel Brown can’t be given any exemption at this point. They added that they will consistently evaluate her role as a potential witness through the early court proceedings to determine whether to call her to the stand, and if she is called on, she would be able to lay out her case for invoking the Fifth- arguments that would be done outside of the presence of a jury, according to the US Attorney’s Office filing.
The District Judge’s ruling denying the motion to squash the subpoena said the proper procedure is to have an “inquiry into the legitimacy and scope”- not in the presence of a jury- to look at the specific questioning Brown could face and whether privilege is “well-founded”. That inquiry will be conducted if the US Attorney’s Office determines they will, in fact, call Shantrel Brown as a witness.
Shantrel Brown is one of 45 witnesses the US Attorney's Office has filed notice they may call to testify. The prospective witness list for the defense is 33 people.