Thursday, October 11, 2007

Court Affirms Finding That Defendant Lied About His Place of Birth, Based On Something He Was Told When He Was Five Years Old

United States v. Trujillo, No. 06-10387 (5th Cir. Sept. 28, 2007) (King, Wiener, Owen)

This case is Exhibit A for why there need to be more demanding standards for Guidelines fact-finding.

Trujillo, a Mexican citizen, pled guilty to meth trafficking. In the PSR interview, he told the probation officer that he was born in Fort Worth, Texas. Later, while reviewing Trujillo's juvenile record, the PO found Trujillo's Mexican birth certificate. The PO therefore construed Trujillo's statement about being born in Fort Worth as "mispresenting his citizenship," and recommended denial of acceptance and application of obstruction, for a 5-level swing in Trujillo's offense level calculation.

Trujillo objected to the PSR's recommendations, arguing that he had not intentionally lied about his citizenship because he genuinely believed that he was born in Fort Worth, and that, in any event, his statement wasn't material. The probation officer responded that Trujillo's objection was "uncorroborated." (It's unclear from the opinion whether the probation officer responded to Trujillo's materiality argument.) Trujillo countered with compelling evidence in support of his objection:
At the sentencing hearing, Trujillo’s stepfather testified that Trujillo was born in Mexico and was not his biological son but that Trujillo did not know his stepfather was not his biological father until this sentencing hearing. His stepfather began raising Trujillo as his son in the United States when Trujillo was three years old. His stepfather also testified that he told Trujillo at age five that Trujillo had been born in Mexico, but later, after “people [] were psychologically damaging him and bothering him about that,” he told Trujillo to “tell them that you’re from Forth Worth so they don’t bother you anymore.” At the end of his testimony, Trujillo’s stepfather stated that he never discussed the issue with Trujillo again and that Trujillo believed that he was actually born in Forth Worth: “Yes, he believed that. He thought that way, he acted that way, and he lived that way, yes.”

Nevertheless, the district court overruled Trujillo's objection, "apparently relying on the fact that Trujillo was told he was born in Mexico and was told to lie about his place of birth." As for Trujillo's argument that the matter wasn't material because “it only affects whether the Court enters an order for the defendant to be turned over to immigration for deportation[,]” the district court responded, "That's pretty material."

Trujillo appealed, to no avail. As for the district court's finding that Trujillo intentionally lied about his birthplace, the court of appeals simply held:
The district court had the opportunity to judge the credibility of the witness, and based on the deference we must give to that determination and based on the record evidence, the district court’s finding is not implausible and was not clearly erroneous.

It also held that Trujillo's statement was material, because, "[i]f believed, the false statement would have affected the terms of his supervised released regarding deportation."

(With due respect, the court is wrong. This isn't a matter of deferring to the district court's credibility determination, since the district court apparently credited most of what the stepfather said. Instead, it's a matter of whether the district court drew the correct conclusion from those facts, and it's simply absurd to conclude that Trujillo knew he was born in Mexico because his stepfather told him that when he was five years old, especially when a 5-level increase hinges on that finding. And as for materiality, the only effect Trujillo's citizenship has on his supervised relase is that it'll be non-reporting release due to the fact that he'll be deported. It's hard to see how that could have any effect at all, much less a material one, on the district court's decision on the length or conditions of supervised release.)

Trujillo also argued on appeal that his 84-month sentence, which was in the middle of the 78- to 97-month produced by the 5-level increase in his total offense level, was unreasonable "because his statement did not impede the presentence investigation, he pleaded guilty to the indictment, he cooperated with the Government, his cooperation led to the arrest of another individual, and he had a category I criminal history." The court rejected that argument, as well, inexplicably stating that "Trujillo has presented no compelling reason and has cited no authority to support a determination that this sentence is unreasonable."

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another prime example of why you should be happy you do not practice before John McBryde. He is a poor excuse for a human being. The fact that the Fifth Circuit wasn't bothered by this should come as no surprise.

10/13/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Malum said...

This is just another example of the deterioration of of the criminal justice system and the return of blatant racism and xenophobia against Latinos.

The 5th Circuit continues to remain culturally bias and will serve as testament to future generations of how backwards things are in the South.

10/14/2007 01:26:00 AM  

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