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United States v. Valenzuela

December 22, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GLADYS VASQUEZ VALENZUELA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret M. Morrow United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS INDICTMENT

Defendants are charged collectively with conspiracy to (a) import aliens for immoral purposes (i.e., prostitution) and (b) commit sex trafficking offenses in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. They are also charged individually with substantive counts of (1) sex trafficking of minors by force, fraud, and coercion (18 U.S.C. § 1591(a)(1)); (2) transportation of minors for purposes of prostitution (18 U.S.C. § 2423(a)); (3) importation and harboring of aliens for purposes of prostitution (18 U.S.C. § 1328); (4) harboring illegal aliens (18 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii)); and (5) transportation of illegal aliens (18 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(ii)).

On August 18, 2008, defendant Maria de los Angeles Vicente ("Vicente") filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, alleging prosecutorial suppression of exculpatory evidence.*fn1

Alternatively, Vicente sought an order compelling discovery and a continuance of trial. Defendants Gabriel Mendez and Gladys Vasquez Valenzuela joined the motion to dismiss on August 21, 2008.*fn2 Defendant Mirna Vasquez Valenzuela joined on August 22, 2008.*fn3

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On June 25, 2008, the court directed all parties to complete an exchange of discovery by August 4, 2008.*fn4 Defendants received approximately 6,240 pages of documents, Bates-stamped, together with several CDs and other media, from the government by this deadline.*fn5 Various of the documents the government produced referenced law enforcement raids that occurred in October 2006.*fn6 These raids -- called "welfare checks" -- targeted several residences, including the residence where Vicente lived at the time.*fn7 On August 11, 2008, Vicente's lawyer, Jeff Price, emailed government attorneys Cheryl Murphy, Sarah Heidel, and Andrew Kline. Price requested disclosure of "all documents pertaining to all raids conducted during the months of October, November and December 2006, by the FBI, ICE and DOL-OIG, of all residences . . . in which the defendants and/or the alleged victims . . . resided."*fn8 Price asked the government to "acknowledge that such 'raids' did occur at the residences at which the defendants and alleged victims resided" and requested a reply within 24 hours.*fn9 Later that day, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cheryl Murphy confirmed receipt of Price's request but stated that she would be unable to respond within 24 hours.*fn10 Murphy offered no substantive response to Vicente's discovery request at that time.*fn11

On August 18, Vicente filed a motion to dismiss the indictment or, in the alternative, for an order compelling discovery and continuing the trial. Vicente alleged that the government had not provided "a single report from any law enforcement agency describing the October 2006 raids, or the planning, execution or operations related to the raids" by the August 4, 2008 discovery cutoff deadline.*fn12 She also asserted that, as of August 18, 2008, defendants had received no "written reports or case notes resulting from interviews with the occupants of the homes raided, nor . . . any search warrant affidavits or service reports, photos taken by law enforcement officers during the raids, evidence confiscated during the raids, . . . electronic eavesdropping and/or video recording devices installed or retrieved during the raids, or . . . copies of any recordings of telephone or radio communications between and among law enforcement agencies involved in the raids."*fn13

In his joinder, Mendez asserted that the government might be in possession of exculpatory evidence that it had not produced concerning cell phones in the alleged victims' possession while they were purportedly being held hostage.*fn14 Mendez also noted that the government had produced "several hundred pages of discovery related to a confidential informant" on August 12, 2008, after the court-imposed deadline, and that defendants had not had time, as of August 21, to review these materials and ascertain what, if any, exculpatory evidence they contained.*fn15 Given these purported discovery deficiencies, defendants maintained that the government had violated its duty to disclose exculpatory and/or impeachment evidence in contravention of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972).*fn16

The day Vicente's motion to dismiss the indictment was filed, the government sent an email to defense counsel that attached forty pages of discovery materials;*fn17 much of this information concerned the October 2006 raids and other investigative activity by government officials in October and November 2006 (before defendants' arrest in December 2006).*fn18 One week later, immediately prior to the August 25 hearing on this motion, the government produced two CDs containing cell phone data retrieved from telephones purportedly used by the alleged victims.

Citing this chronology, Vicente asserts that the government has suppressed exculpatory evidence; she contends that this constitutes prosecutorial misconduct that has deprived defendants of their right to fair trial and due process of law and that warrants dismissal of the indictment.*fn19

Mendez asserts that the government's recent production of documents and cell phone records at a minimum merits a continuance so that defendants will have sufficient time to conduct follow-up investigations and review the newly produced materials.*fn20

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standards Governing Pretrial Disclosure of Evidence in Criminal Cases

The government has a constitutional duty to disclose, upon request, all evidence favorable to a defendant that is material either to guilt or to punishment. Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963) ("We now hold that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment"); United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, 106-07 (1976) ("In many cases, however, exculpatory information in the possession of the prosecutor may be unknown to defense counsel. In such a situation he may make no request at all, or possibly ask for 'all Brady material' or for 'anything exculpatory.' Such a request really gives the prosecutor no better notice than if no request is made. . . . But if the evidence is so clearly supportive of a claim of innocence that it gives the prosecution notice of a duty to produce, that duty should equally arise even if no request [or a general 'all Brady material' request] is made"); see also United States v. Ruiz, 536 U.S. ...


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