In a highly anticipated trial set to begin today, FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) faces a new legal challenge as his attorneys seek to limit the prosecution’s use of a Ukrainian witness in criminal proceedings. 

Bankman-Fried’s legal team has requested Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to deny the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) motion to permit the witness, FTX Customer-1, to testify remotely. 

The move has sparked a heated debate, with both sides presenting arguments centered around constitutional rights and the relevance of the proposed testimony.

Sam Bankman-Fried Defense Raises Concerns Over Redundant Testimony

The DOJ’s motion, submitted on September 30, argued that the Ukrainian witness’s circumstances, including being impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and suffering substantial financial losses on the collapsed FTX exchange, warranted remote testimony due to the challenges of international travel. 

However, Bankman-Fried’s attorneys contend that such testimony would violate their client’s rights under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, guaranteeing the right to face one’s accusers.

One of the key points that Sam Bankman-Fried’s legal team raised is the witness’s testimony being “cumulative” and “lacking materiality.” The lawyers argue that the proposed testimony would duplicate information provided by other customers and introduce irrelevant factors related to the witness’s hardships resulting from the Ukrainian conflict. 

Sam Bankman-Fried’s lawyers assert that allowing remote testimony under these circumstances would elicit sympathy from the jury, potentially swaying their judgment.

Central to the debate is interpreting the Confrontation Clause and whether remote testimony can be deemed permissible under exceptional circumstances while protecting the defendant’s fundamental rights. 

The defense team cites precedent in the Second Circuit, emphasizing the preference for face-to-face testimony unless specific criteria, such as unavailability of the witness, materiality of their testimony, and furthering the interests of justice, are met.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s defense argues that the proposed remote testimony fails to satisfy these criteria, contending that it would undermine the solemnity of the oath requirement, as Ukraine lacks an extradition treaty with the United States. 

Additionally, they raise concerns about potential prejudice resulting from the circumstances surrounding the witness’s absence from the courtroom, which, according to SBF’s legal team, could “influence” the jurors’ perception of the case.

SBF’s Trial Expected To Span Six Weeks As Legal Battle Begins

In a courtroom statement that resonated with both the prosecution and defense, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan informed jurors that the trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried is expected to last approximately six weeks. 

However, Judge Kaplan also tempered expectations, noting that his cases generally conclude earlier than anticipated due to court scheduling. 

During the trial’s preliminary proceedings, Judge Kaplan addressed the jury, stating:

This case, according to the lawyers, should take six weeks. My cases rarely take as long as the lawyers think. Generally, Tuesday through Friday, sometimes Monday through Thursday.

The judge intended to manage the jurors’ expectations regarding the trial’s duration and emphasize his commitment to expediting proceedings whenever possible.

The outcome will rest in the hands of the jury, who will weigh the facts and apply the law to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

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