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United States v. Milne

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 24, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN LEROY MILNE and MANUEL PAVON-RODRIGUEZ, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. BRACK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the government's motion for a ruling of admissibility on the offered testimony of DEA Special Agent Joseph Montoya, as well as Defendant Manuel Pavon-Rodriguez's motion to exclude or limit the testimony of Agent Montoya. After reviewing the facts, the legal standards, and the submissions of the parties, the Court will permit Agent Montoya to testify as an expert only about certain topics, enumerated below.

         FACTS

         On June 23, 2017, Border Patrol agents arrested Defendants John Leroy Milne and Manuel Pavon-Rodriguez. Mr. Milne had been driving a Ford Explorer (Explorer) containing several burlap backpacks filled with about 111.8 kilograms of marijuana. Mr. Pavon-Rodriguez, an undocumented alien, was hiding in the Explorer.

         The government has charged Mr. Milne and Mr. Pavon-Rodriguez with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. (Doc. 13 at 1-2.) As part of its case, the government plans to call DEA Special Agent Joseph Montoya. (Doc. 46 at 1.) The government contends that Agent Montoya's testimony is relevant and admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which allows opinion testimony by witnesses qualified as experts. (Id.)

         The following are Agent Montoya's relevant credentials, according to the government:

Agent Montoya has been a DEA Special Agent since 1999, during which time he has specialized in investigations involving drug trafficking. Agent Montoya has received specialized training on the subject of drug trafficking from the DEA, and he has personally [been] involved [in] over 500 investigations involving the possession, manufacture, distribution, and importation of controlled substances . . . . Agent Montoya has also been involved in more than 2000 undercover operations as a transporter/courier, facilitator, seller, or purchaser of controlled substances.
. . .
Agent Montoya has approximately 15 years of field experience conducting physical surveillance, interviewing witnesses, including confidential sources and cooperating defendants, writing affidavits for and executing search warrants, working with undercover agents and informants, analyzing phone and financial records, and conducting wiretap investigations.
. . .
Through informant interviews of individuals involved in drug trafficking, through undercover operations, and through participation in drug trafficking investigations, Agent Montoya has learned about the manner in which individuals and organizations package, conceal, transport, and distribute controlled substances in New Mexico and throughout the United States, and the transportation of controlled substances. Agent Montoya also has become familiar with the appearance and street names of various drugs, including marijuana. He also knows the street value of marijuana and the difference between distributable quantities of marijuana and personal use quantities of marijuana.

(Id. at 1-2.) On the basis of this background, the United States plans to have Agent Montoya testify about his training and experience investigating drug trafficking cases, as well as:

(1) the common ways in which drug distributors import narcotics from Mexico into the United States, and then transport and distribute the narcotics in New Mexico, and elsewhere; (2) the meaning of the word “bales, ” in reference to marijuana . . . (3) different roles within drug organizations, specifically focusing on couriers and backpackers; (4) that backpacks are “tools of the trade” for drug traffickers . . . (5) the common ways in which drug trafficking organizations export drugs from [] Mexico into the United States . . . (6) the monetary wholesale and street value of the marijuana seized in this case; and (7) that the amount and value of the marijuana seized in this case is consistent with the intent to distribute marijuana rather than personal use. Agent Montoya also will testify concerning the significance of various routes taken by the drug traffickers.

(Doc. 60 at 9.)

         Mr. Pavon-Rodriguez objects to the proposed testimony by Agent Montoya and asks the Court limit or exclude Agent Montoya's testimony.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 allows a witness who qualifies as an expert by virtue of his “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” to testify in the form of an opinion if (1) the witness's specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue, (2) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data, (3) the testimony is based on reliable principles and ...


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