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United States v. Garcia

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 19, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER GARCIA, Defendant.

          Damon P. Martinez United States Attorney Maria Y. Armijo Randy M. Castellano Matthew M. Beck Assistant United States Attorneys Las Cruces, New Mexico Attorneys for the Plaintiff

          Christopher W. Adams Law Offices of Christopher W. Adams, P.C. Charleston, South Carolina --and-- Amy Sirignano Law Office of Amy Sirignano, P.C. Albuquerque, New Mexico Attorneys for the Defendant Christopher Garcia

          Russell M. Aoki Aoki Law, PLLC Seattle, Washington Court-Appointed Coordinating Discovery Attorney

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Opposed Renewed Motion to Declare Case Complex, filed September 29, 2016 (Doc. 114)(“Renewed Motion to Declare Complex”). The Court held a hearing on October 25, 2016. The primary issue is whether, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii), the nature of the prosecution, the number of Defendants, or the existence of novel questions of fact or law, make this case so complex that it is unreasonable to expect the Defendant to adequately prepare for trial within the normal time limits established by 18 U.S.C. § 3161(c)(1). Because the Court maintains its conclusion that the present prosecution does not warrant a complex designation at this time, the Court will deny the Motion to Declare Complex, without prejudice to its renewal at a later date.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of its consideration of the Renewed Motion to Declare Complex, the Court pulls its recitation of the facts from the Indictment, filed December 1, 2015 (Doc. 1); the Superseding Indictment, filed March 16, 2017 (Doc. 48); and the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order, filed November 16, 2016 (Doc. 133)(“MOO”). The Court has already, on another occasion, provided a detailed explanation of the charges and the history of the investigations giving rise to this case. See United States of America v. Angel DeLeon, et al., No. CR. 15-4268 JB, 2016 WL 3124632 (D.N.M. May 27, 2016)(Browning, J.). The facts that specifically pertain to the present case are as follows.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In March, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation renewed investigation of the Syndicato Nuevo Mexico (“SNM”) prison gang. See MOO at 2-3. “SNM's recent activities in a conspiracy to murder high-ranking New Mexico Corrections Department Officials inspired the investigation, which included both old murders and new murder conspiracies, in addition to the racketeering activities of current gang members that were out of custody.” MOO at 2 (internal quotations omitted). Accordingly, in response to the investigation, a federal grand jury indicted Defendant Christopher Garcia in three cases. In this case -- the drug case -- the grand jury originally charged Garcia -- and only Garcia -- with four counts for charges of (i) Distribution of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C); (ii) Distribution of Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C); and (iii) Distribution of 100 Grams and More of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B). See Indictment at 1-2. In a related case -- United States v. DeLeon -- which the Honorable Ken Gonzales, District Judge for the United States District of New Mexico, declared complex on January 11, 2016, Garcia is a Defendant, and has been indicted and charged with: (i) Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (“VICAR”)(Conspiracy to Murder), in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1959(a)(5); (ii) Felon in Possession of a Firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(a)(2); and (iii) Using and Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence Conspiracy to Commit Assault Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c). See United States v. Deleon, No. CR. 15-4268 JB, Superseding Indictment, filed April 21, 2016 (Doc. 367). That case names thirty Defendants, all alleged SNM members or associates, who have allegedly engaged in Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering activity, under 18 U.S.C. § 1959 -- making it the “VICAR” case -- whereas the present case solely makes allegations related to Garcia's involvement in drug trafficking. MOO at 2. Some of the Defendants in that case were death penalty eligible and have had learned counsel appointed. See United States v. Deleon, No. CR. 15-4268 JB, The United States' Notice of Intent Not To Seek a Sentence of Death, filed June 6, 2016 (Doc. 567)(stating that it would not seek a death sentence against twenty-one death-penalty eligible Defendants).

         Garcia has also been indicted in United States of America v. Anthony Baca et al., No. CR 16-1613 JB (D.N.M.)(Browning, J.), which names twelve Defendants, all SNM members or associates, who have allegedly engaged in a racketeering conspiracy, under 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) -- making it the “racketeering case.” United States v. Baca, No. CR 16-1613, Sealed Indictment, filed April 21, 2016 (Doc. 1). The indictment in United States v. Baca also makes allegations of Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering activity; Garcia is charged with: (i) Racketeering Conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); and (ii) Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (Murder), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1). See United States v. Baca, No. CR 16-1613, Sealed Indictment, filed April 21, 2016 (Doc. 1). Garcia, and two other Defendants, are named in United States v. Baca and were originally death penalty eligible, and the Court appointed learned counsel for them. See United States v. Baca, No. CR 16-1613, The United States' Notice of Intent Not To Seek a Sentence of Death, filed September 13, 2016 (Doc. 210)(stating that it would not seek a death sentence against the three Defendants). The Court has declared that case complex. See United States v. Baca, No. CR 16-1613, Memorandum Opinion and Order, filed October 20, 2016 (Doc. 238).

         On March 17, 2016, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment in this case against Garcia alleging six charges of (i) Distribution of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C); (ii) Distribution of Cocaine Base, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C); (iii) Distribution of 100 Grams and More of Heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B); (iv) Possession with Intent to Distribute 100 Grams and More of Heroin, and Aiding and Abetting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(B), and 18 U.S.C. § 2; and (v) Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana, and Aiding and Abetting, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(D), and 18 U.S.C. § 2. See Superseding Indictment at 1-2. According to the United States, 1, 389 pages of discovery and seven audio recordings have thus far been disclosed to Garcia. See United States' Response to Defendant's Opposed Renewed Motion to Declare Case Complex at 3, filed October 13, 2016 (Doc. 119)(“United States' Response”).

         On March 28, 2016, Garcia moved the Court to declare this case complex given the complicated nature of the multiple cases being brought against him. See Defendant's Opposed Motion to Designate the Case Complex, filed March 28, 2016 (Doc. 56). The United States opposed that Opposed Motion to Designate the Case Complex, because, while the cases involving the prosecution of multiple SNM members' involvement in racketeering activity might require a complex designation, the present case is a stand-alone drug offense. See MOO at 4. The Court denied the Defendant's Opposed Motion to Designate the Case Complex, but without prejudice to bringing a similar motion should it appear as though the case warranted the complex designation in the future. See MOO at 22.

         Garcia now, again, moves the Court to declare the present case complex given the complicated nature of the multiple cases brought against him. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex at 1. The United States, again, opposes the Motion to Declare Complex, because, “this is a drug case, ” and “there is nothing about this case warranting a complex case designation.” United States' Response at 4. The Court recently continued trial in this matter to November 30, 2016. See Order Granting Unopposed Motion to Continue the October 24, 2016, Motions Deadline and the October 31, 2016, Trial Setting, filed October 25, 2016 (Doc. 127). The Court will, again, deny Garcia's Motion to Declare Complex without prejudice to renew later in the case.

         1. The Renewed Motion to Declare Complex.

         Garcia's Renewed Motion to Declare Complex requests that the Court designate his case complex pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(7)(B)(ii). See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex at 1. The Renewed Motion to Declare Complex primarily relies on the interrelation amongst this case, the complex case United States v. Deleon, No. CR. 15-4268 JB, and the complex case United States v. Baca, No. CR 16-1613, all of which have named Garcia a Defendant. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶¶ 4-5, at 2. The Renewed Motion to Declare Complex notes that learned counsel has been appointed for Garcia in all three of the cases. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶¶ 6-7, at 3. Further, the United States had at one point, according to the Renewed Motion to Declare Complex, agreed to declare this case complex. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶¶ 10-11, at 3-4.

         Garcia argues that, thus far, the discovery disclosed is identical in each of Garcia's three cases. See Renewed Motion to Declare Case Complex ¶ 13, at 4. Garcia also argues that he will need to respond to the discovery for all three cases with his own independent analyses, and that such will be complicated by them needing to proceed to trial in accordance with usual deadlines. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶ 28, at 9. To that point, the Renewed Motion to Declare Case Complex explains that these three cases are further interrelated, because, “[a]ll of the counts in this case are alleged as Overt Acts in the 16-1613 case.” Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶ 14, at 4. The Renewed Motion to Declare Complex also emphasizes the difficulty Garcia has in receiving his discovery, in each case, via tablet. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶¶ 19-27, 30-31, at 6-9. Garcia argues that this difficulty will increase the case's complexity. See Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶¶ 19-25, at 6-8.

         Accordingly, the Renewed Motion to Declare Complex maintains:

Counsel has been reviewing discovery with Mr. Garcia in a diligent fashion. Counsel respectfully requests the Court to order this case complex due to the facts stated above, the relatedness of all three of Mr. Garcia's cases (two which have already been declared complex[)], the volume and number of discovery documents, the number of defendants in the related cases, novel questions of fact and law (CHS given a cellular phone while incarcerated), the number of CHSs, and discovery still outstanding.

Renewed Motion to Declare Complex ¶ 32, at 8.

         2. The United States' Response.

         The United States responded to the Renewed Motion to Declare Complex on October 13, 2016. See United States' Response at 1. The United States' Response provides that “this case involves undercover controlled drug purchases that were recorded and photographed. There were also search warrants that were executed on the Defendant' residence and the Defendant's stash house.” United States' Response at 4. Accordingly, the United States argues that, although “the Defendant is facing more serious charges in another case . . . there is nothing complex about the facts of this case warranting a complex designation.” United States' Response at 4. In addition, “the United States does not intend to introduce evidence of the Syndicato Nuevo Mexico (SNM) at trial, unless it becomes relevant based on the defense. Therefore, Defendant's claim that she has to review over 40, 000 pages of discovery is simply inaccurate.” United States' Response at 4. The United States concludes that it “is prepared to go to trial.” United States' Response at 5.

         3. The October 25, 2016, Hearing.

         The Court held a hearing on October 25, 2016. See Transcript of Hearing, taken October 25, 2016 (“Tr.”).[2] At the outset of the hearing, the Court delivered to the parties the MOO denying Garcia's first motion to declare the case complex. See Tr. at 2:22-24 (Court). The parties largely stuck to their briefing's arguments, with Garcia beginning by arguing that “the defense submits again that this case is so unusual, due to the nature of prosecution, that it is unreasonable to expect the defense to prepare for this trial or pretrial proceedings within the time allotted under 3161.” Tr. at 3:20-24 (Sirignano). Garcia maintained that, although it is “the Government's position that the evidence that was disclosed in the companion cases [is] not relevant to this case . . . that's completely incorrect. The evidence that has been discovered by the Government relates to all three cases.” Tr. at 4:19-25 (Sirignano). Garcia then explained that there was certain evidence left to be discovered -- such as the identity of confidential informants -- making it untenable to go to trial on the usual deadlines. See Tr. at 6:1-9:1 (Sirignano). The Court then posited that, “I'll bet they're going to get up here in a minute, and they're going to tell you that for this case you have everything they're going to introduce; that you have all the Brady information; and they'll give you the Giglio at a certain -- two weeks before trial.” Tr. at 9:2-8 (Court). Garcia, in response, argued that he still did not have information on the confidential informants, how a cellular telephone got into the Department of Corrections, and how the case began. See Tr. at 9:13-19 (Sirignano). The Court was not certain, however, that Garcia would ultimately be able to get that information in the course of discovery. See Tr. at 9:20-23 (Court).

         The United States then took up argument, and the Court indicated that “I get the feeling you're squeezing the Defendant with these motions to continue for whatever purposes the Government has with Mr. Garcia, but you're not ready for trial either.” Tr. at 15:7-20 (Court). The United States responded that, “in order to try this case, ” Garcia “needs 1, 400 pages of discovery. That's the Chris Garcia matter.” Tr. at 15:22-24 (Castellano). The United States then provided that, “two weeks before trial, she'll have the information. I will say that she has the recording of at least one of those informants. We've turned over the recordings. So they know who at least one of those people is. And for purposes of this case, we're probably talking about two informants, not 93 informants.” Tr. at 16:15-22 (Castellano). The Court, in response to the United States' uncertainty with respect to the number of informants, then pressed the United States about the precise number of informants. See Tr. at 17:14-22 (Court). The United States confirmed that it would only be two informants, and that their identities -- and approximately 1, 400 pages of discovery -- would be disclosed by two weeks before trial. See Tr. at 17:23-24 (Castellano). The Court then addressed the issue of the tablets and inquired of the United States whether, “on these 1400 pages, do you care whether he has hard copies in prison?” Tr. at 22:5-8 (Court). The United States replied that only a small, undefined subset might need to be kept on the tablet for safety purposes, but that the discovery coordinator could probably rush the delivery of Garcia's tablet, as he had recently done for a defendant in another related case. See Tr. at 22:13-25:3 (Castellano, Court). Ultimately, the United States concluded that evidence related to SNM would not be relevant to the prosecution's case and that they were ready to try the case at that time. See Tr. at 25:3-32:8 (Castellano, Court).

         Garcia then again argued, indicating that it was imperative that the attorneys be fully prepared to try this case before the trial begins. See Tr. at 33:4-7 (Adams). Garcia reiterated that, given the interrelation amongst the three cases, it would be untenable to bring the drug case to trial before the discovery was complete in the other cases, because, without waiting, Garcia is unable to understand the full extent of the “Government's spear, ” and the tip of that spear was all of which he is aware of at the moment. Tr. at 34:16-21 (Adams). Garcia then suggested that the Court allow Russell Aoki, the discovery ...


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