Thursday, January 23, 2014

Obstruction of Justice Enhancement Applied Based on Trial Testimony; Knowledge of Drugs Contested, but Behavior Sufficiently Incriminating

Perez, charged with possession with intent to distribute fifty grams or more methamphetamine and conspiracy to do the same, appealed his conviction. He challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction, disputed the evidentiary rulings surrounding the prosecution’s cross-examination of Perez, claimed that the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument, and contested the district court’s application of the Sentencing Guidelines. The panel affirmed the judgment of sentence and conviction.
The defense got off to a turbulent start when Perez failed to renew his motion for a judgment of acquittal regarding his sufficiency of evidence argument, thus forfeiting his first challenge. The evidence in question was still reviewed, however, and found to be quite sufficient. Perez’s other arguments were also reviewed and subsequently dismissed. A significant obstacle to Perez’s claims was his nonchalant reaction to the narcotics present at the intended drug deal. The panel suggests that the evidence was more than enough to convince a reasonable jury that Perez’s alleged ignorance was feigned.

The panel held that the government permissibly used financial documents to undermine Perez’s alibi during cross examination, and that the prosecutor’s references during closing arguments to the financial documents that arguably impeached Perez was not misconduct. Furthermore, the district court properly applied the obstruction of justice enhancement since the court pointed to specific statements in Perez’s testimony that it found to be false and willfully made. The panel also affirmed the district court’s finding that Perez was not a minor participant because he transported the meth concealed in a cooler and helped the undercover dismantle the cooler.

Thanks to FPD Intern Matthew Gonzalez for this blog post.



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