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United States v. Guerrero

United States District Court, E.D. California, Fresno Division

July 10, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH CABRERA SABLAN and JAMES NINETE LEON GUERRERO, Defendants.

ORDER

PHILIP M. PRO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court for consideration is Defendant Joseph Cabrera Sablan's Combined Motion to Dismiss Indictment (Doc. #722), filed under seal on October 3, 2013. The Government filed its Opposition (Doc. #727) on October 10, 2013. Defendant Sablan filed a Reply (Doc. #749) on November 12, 2013.

Also before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant James Ninete Leon Guerrero that have been incorporated by Defendant Sablan: (1) Motion to Dismiss Counts One and Two of the Indictment[1] (Doc. #689); and (2) Motion for Order Precluding the Death Penalty (Doc. #689). Both of these motions were filed on August 16, 2013.

Defendant Sablan Joined (Doc. #700, #701) on September 9, 2013. The Government filed an omnibus Opposition (Doc. #706) on September 16, 2013. Defendant Leon Guerrero filed a Reply (Doc. #737) on October 22, 2013.[2]

I. BACKGROUND

The parties are familiar with the facts of the case and the Court will not repeat them here except where necessary. Defendant Sablan is charged with a three-count Indictment for the first-degree murder of Correctional Officer Jose V. Rivera at United States Penitentiary ("USP") Atwater on June 20, 2008. (Indictment (Doc. #1).) Count One charges Defendant Sablan with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1111 ("federal murder"). (Id. at 1-2.) Count Two charges Defendant Sablan with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1114 ("murder of a U.S. officer"). (Id. at 2.) Count Three charges Defendant Sablan with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1118 ("murder by federal inmate"). (Id.) In addition to the three counts, the Indictment lists ten Special Findings, which serve to meet the mental state and aggravating factors required by the Federal Death Penalty Act ("FDPA"). (Id.) The death penalty is a potential punishment for first-degree murder under Counts One and Two, and for first- or second-degree murder under Count Three. The Government has filed an amended notice of intent to seek the death penalty (Doc. #589).

Defendant Sablan now moves the Court for relief on two grounds, seeking either dismissal of the Indictment or an order barring the death penalty. First, Defendant Sablan argues the warden and other prison officials at USP Atwater failed to comply with prison policies and their deliberate indifference toward prison conditions led to a dangerous environment in which both inmates and guards were at a substantial risk of harm. Defendant Sablan further argues the prison officials disregarded their duty to create and maintain a safe environment and instead allowed for the widespread availability of alcohol and weapons at USP Atwater, which, as a result, made it necessary for inmates to carry weapons for personal protection. Defendant Sablan argues the Due Process Clause requires dismissal or a bar against the death penalty because of the Government's involvement in the conditions at USP Atwater that contributed to an unsafe environment.

Similarly, Defendant Sablan argues the Court should use its inherent supervisory powers to dismiss the Indictment or bar the death penalty because of the prison officials' involvement in creating an unsafe environment, as well as their failure to take corrective measures toward known problems with alcohol and weapons at USP Atwater. Defendant Sablan moves for dismissal or a bar against the death penalty to "ensure that the government does not place its sins on the head of Mr. Sablan and ask this Court to hold him to account through his death, while ignoring the wrongful conduct of the government of its role in contributing to Jose Rivera's death, for which it will never otherwise be held accountable." (Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. #722) at 3.)

Defendant Sablan's second ground for relief is the failure of the officials investigating the attack on Officer Rivera to collect evidence of Defendant Sablan's blood alcohol level. Defendant Sablan argues the USP Atwater and other government personnel who responded to the attack knew Defendant Sablan was intoxicated at the time of the attack, yet they did not follow Bureau of Prisons or FBI protocols that require the collection of evidence of intoxication. Defendant Sablan argues this failure deprives him of a defense to his first-degree murder charges and mitigating evidence for the sentencing phase of FDPA proceedings. Defendant Sablan also incorporates Section III of Defendant Leon Guerrero's Motion to Dismiss Counts One and Two of the Indictment (Doc. #688) and Motion to Preclude the Death Penalty (Doc. #689), which argue the prison officials acted in bad faith when they did not collect evidence of Defendants' intoxication levels following the attack, thereby depriving Defendants of exculpatory and mitigating evidence for which there is no comparable evidence.

Defendant Sablan also moves for an evidentiary hearing to present his proffered evidence of the unsafe conditions at USP Atwater and to demonstrate the deliberate indifference of the prison officials and the bad faith failure to collect Defendant Sablan's blood alcohol level after the attack. Defendant Sablan attaches to his Motion forty-four exhibits, which include charts, witness declarations, photographs, video, and other documents pertaining to the prevalence of assaults, weapons, and alcohol at USP Atwater, as well as the decreased use of segregation as a form of punishment.

The Government responds that the actions or decisions of the warden and other USP Atwater officials did not induce Defendant Sablan to attack Officer Rivera. The Government further argues the unsafe conditions at USP Atwater, as seen in the prevalence of weapons and alcohol, were not the result of government conduct, but inmate conduct, and that this environment is not directly connected to Defendant Sablan's decision to attack Officer Rivera. The Government further argues that prison officials had no duty to collect Defendant Sablan's intoxication level, and that their decision to not do so was not made in bad faith. The Government contends that comparable evidence exists in the video of the attack, witness testimony, and a Bureau of Prisons incident report finding that Defendants were obviously intoxicated.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Deliberate Indifference Toward Alcohol and Weapons at USP Atwater

Defendant Sablan argues the government's deliberate indifference toward contraband in the form of alcohol and weapons at USP Atwater constitutes outrageous misconduct. He further argues that this misconduct was malum in se because the prison officials had a duty to maintain a safe environment inside the prison. Defendant Sablan argues he was not predisposed to attack Officer Rivera and did not intend to kill Officer Rivera. He argues the Due Process Clause thus bars prosecution or the death penalty. Alternatively, Defendant Sablan argues the Court should ...


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