Sunday, October 14, 2018

Case o' The Week: They Beat Carillo, but Not the Conviction -- Gonzalez and Objects of Sec. 241 Conspiracies


   Unanimousish close enough, for conspiracy conviction.

Mr. Gabriel Carillo, victim of assault by L.A. County Jail deputies
United States v. Eric Gonzalez, 2018 WL 4904767(9th Cir. Oct. 10, 2018), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Watford, joined by Judge Bybee and Sixth Cir. Judge Rogers.

Facts: Carillo was suspected of smuggling a cell phone into the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail during a visit. Id. at *2. During a search, Carillo and Deputy Ayala got into a verbal spat. Id. More deputies were called: one punched the handcuffed Carillo. Carillo fell to the floor, and deputies punched and kicked him. Id. Carillo suffered bone fractures and a broken nose. Id. 
  Ranking officer Sgt. Eric Gonzalez huddled with his officers to “concoct a story that would justify their use of force.” Id.
  Gonzalez and two officers were charged federally. Id. “Count One charged Gonzalez and Ayala with a § 241 conspiracy that had two objects: (1) to deprive Carrillo of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force; and (2) to deprive Carrillo of his due process right not to be prosecuted on the basis of falsified evidence. The jury returned a general verdict finding both defendants guilty of Count One . . . .” Id.
  On appeal Sgt. Gonzalez and Deputy Ayala challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for the conspiracy conviction. Id.

Issue(s): “Gonzalez and Ayala concede that there was sufficient evidence to support the second object. They contend that the verdict on Count One must nevertheless be reversed because there was insufficient evidence to support the first object and the jury’s general verdict makes it impossible to tell which of the two objects the jury agreed upon.” Id.

Held: “[W]e begin by rejecting the flawed premise of their argument. Gonzalez and Ayala assume that whenever one object of a multiple-object conspiracy is not supported by sufficient evidence, a general verdict must be set aside. The Supreme Court foreclosed that very argument in Griffin v. United States, 502 U.S. 46 . . . (1991). There, the Court held that reversal is required only if one of the objects of the conspiracy is legally deficient —for example, because the conduct underlying the object is protected by the Constitution, occurred outside the statute of limitations, or ‘fails to come within the statutory definition of the crime.’ Id. at 59 . . .. In that scenario, if the basis for the jury’s verdict is unclear, reversal is required because we do not expect jurors to be able to determine “whether a particular theory of conviction submitted to them is contrary to law.” Id.; . . . . The rule is different when all objects of the conspiracy are sound as a legal matter, but one of them lacks adequate evidentiary support. Because ‘jurors are well equipped to analyze the evidence,’ we can be confident that the jury chose to rest its verdict on the object that was supported by sufficient evidence, rather than the object that was not. Griffin, 502 U.S. at 59, 112 S.Ct. 466. In this latter scenario, the verdict stands.
   This case is controlled by Griffin. Gonzalez and Ayala do not contend that either object of the conspiracy charged in Count One was legally deficient. They do not, for example, assert that the jury instructions improperly defined the elements of the crime. They argue only that the first object, concerning Carrillo’s right to be free from the use of excessive force, was not supported by sufficient proof. Even if we agreed with them on that point (which we don’t, for reasons explained below), they would not be entitled to reversal of their convictions on Count One. The evidence was sufficient to prove the second object, as they freely concede. That suffices to sustain the jury’s general verdict against the challenge Gonzalez and Ayala assert.” Id. at *4.

Of Note: Tough facts here, for the defense. See an L.A. Times article on the sentencing hearing, here

How to Use: The depressing rule of Gonzalez (and Griffin) is that there’s no need for jury unanimity on multiple objects of a conspiracy, if the objects of the conspiracy are legally crimes.
  Note, however, that if there’s a legal impediment to one of the objects of a conspiracy (like a statute of limitations problem, or a jurisdictional problem), a challenge still lies. Id. at *3. An important caveat to a depressing holding.
                                               
For Further Reading: Over the vehement objections of the California Senators, President Trump has nominated three new jurists for the Ninth -- despite the lack of blue slips.

The Honorable Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamela Harris
   For an interesting account of the many issues facing the nation’s largest Circuit, see a recent CNN article here 





Image of Senators Feinstein and Harris from https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Harris-Feinstein-Say-They-Did-Not-Sign-Off-on-Judicial-Nominees-497431271.html  


Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender N.D. Cal. New website at www.ndcalfpd.org


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Sunday, October 14, 2018 8:51:00 PM  

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