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United States v. Meza

United States District Court, S.D. California

March 28, 2017



          JEFFREY T. MILLER United States District Judge

         Pending before the court are Defendant David Enrique Meza's motion to compel discovery, (Doc. No. 120), the Government's motions in limine, (Doc. No. 129), and Meza's motion in limine, (Doc. No. 137). The court heard argument on these motions on March 24, 2017, and this order addresses each in turn.

         Meza's Motion to Compel Discovery

         Meza moves for discovery of testing and reports done by the Mexican authorities. Meza argues that both Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 and Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), require the Government to turn over this material. In response, the Government argues that it does not have possession, custody, or control of the material, and, furthermore, the United States government cannot compel the Mexican government to produce it.

         At the March 24 hearing, the Government stated that it had already made an informal request to Mexican authorities to turn over the material, if it exists, but had not heard back. At Meza's behest, the Government represented that it would make another request in short order. Accordingly, pending these cooperative efforts, the court defers ruling on this motion until the scheduled April 7, 2017, status hearing.

         Government's Motions in Limine Regarding Witness Impeachment

         The Government moves to (1) preclude impeachment of Hector Gonzalez and Isidro Magana with convictions more than ten years old; (2) limit impeachment of Magana to the fact of conviction only for a conviction less than ten years old; (3) preclude impeachment of Gonzalez with uncharged conduct not probative of truthfulness; and (4) preclude impeachment of Gonzalez with prior drug use. Meza did not file an opposition to these motions or argue against them at the hearing. For the following reasons, the court grants each motion without prejudice.

         Regarding the Government's first request, Federal Rule of Evidence 609(b)(1) provides that evidence of a conviction more than ten years old is admissible only if “its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect . . . .” Because Meza did not oppose the motion, there is no argument before the court that Rule 609(b)(1)'s requirement is met as to any of the convictions at issue here.

         Second, evidence of Magana's 2013 conviction for assault with a deadly weapon must come in under Rule 609(a)(1)(A), subject to Rule 403 balancing. But, as the Government notes, “absent exceptional circumstances, evidence of a prior conviction admitted for impeachment purposes may not include collateral details and circumstances attendant upon the conviction. Generally, only the prior conviction, its general nature, and punishment of felony range are fair game for testing the [witness]'s credibility.” United States v. Osazuwa, 564 F.3d 1169, 1175 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). As Meza has not shown that this is an exceptional circumstance meriting discussion of the specifics underlying Magana's offense, the court grants the Government's motion to limit it to the fact of conviction.

         Next, the Government seeks to exclude certain uncharged conduct involving Gonzalez. A witness's credibility may be attacked on cross-examination by inquiring into specific instances of conduct not resulting in a criminal conviction only if those instances “are probative of the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness.” Fed.R.Evid. 608(b). The court finds that these old, uncharged acts are not probative of Gonzalez's character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, and discussing them may raise Rule 403 issues. Given this determination, along with the Government's assertion that “[n]either the United States nor Mexican authorities have any agreement with Gonzalez regarding his testimony in this case and any of the above-cited matters, ” the court precludes reference to this conduct.

         Finally, the court grants the Government's motion regarding Gonzalez's past drug use. As the Ninth Circuit put it in United States v. Kizer, 569 F.2d 504 (9th Cir. 1978):

The cases that allow broad cross-examination on the issue of drug addiction to impeach witnesses are readily distinguishable. Such cross-examination may be necessary where defense counsel seeks to impeach narcotics addicts who are paid government informers with criminal charges pending against them, or who had criminal charges against them dropped prior to trial, or where the fact of addiction is probative of other motivation for testifying, or where the witness is intoxicated while testifying. The record here reveals no such bases for allowing cross-examination on drug addiction. Moreover, there is widespread recognition that drug addiction is an issue fraught with potential prejudice: The issue of narcotics use is one that may properly be handled with some sensitivity lest it result in undue and unnecessary prejudice. There is an interest in avoiding undue evidentiary assault on prosecution witnesses. Prejudice may result if questions asked for the limited purpose of testing, say, opportunity to observe, are permitted to generate a hostility based on the general odium of narcotics use.

Id. at 506 (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         Here, the Government asserts that Gonzalez used drugs nine years ago. Thus, without any reason to believe that Gonzalez is currently on and ...

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