Two Drug Case Reversals

9th Circuit CourthouseThe 9th Circuit overturned two criminal convictions in unrelated cases Wednesday helping out a couple of talkative defendants who should have kept quiet.  The first case stems from illegal searches of a Pomona meth lab that also produced a suspect’s unfortunate comments about the business.  Those will have to be suppressed, according to Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

The second case comes from a Tucson suspect at a house with 220 pounds of pot.  He admitted he was in the country illegally but rather than taking him immediately to a magistrate, officers held him at the scene for hours, then overnight in jail, giving him time also to make unfortunate comments about his activity.  His convictions for marijuana possession and conspiracy to distribute the drugs had to be overturned because the delay violated legal standards, according to Judge Betty Fletcher.

Fletcher ordered the suppression of statements by Julio Alfonso Valenzuela-Espinoza and reversal of his conviction based on immigration agents raiding a Tucson house in 2008 over suspected of drug activity.

Valenzuela-Espinoza was arrested at 11a.m. for being in the U.S. illegally, but rather than having any of a number of the agents take him to a magistrate in time for a daily 2p.m. appearances for illegal aliens, the agents kept him at the house until 5p.m.  Nor was he given his Miranda rights, according to the court.

The officers wanted to keep him in order to talk about the marijuana at the house, along with two hand guns and cell phones.

When he got to the immigration station at 5p.m., they delayed reading his rights until 7:30p.m.  He told agents he agreed to unload marijuana for $2,500.

But no matter.  His conviction is reversed.  Problem for Valenzuela-Espinoza is that he has completed his prison term and been deported to Mexico.  But he remains subject to his parole terms.

In the Pomona meth case, the court overturned the conviction of Scott R. Shetler because the government failed to show that Shetler’s ramblings weren’t the result of the illegal searches of Shetler’s home and garage.

But Reinhardt held Shetler is not entitled to a judgment of acquittal for insufficient evidence.  Reinhardt said that although the evidence was sparse it was enough to let a jury conclude that the primary purpose of his home was to make methamphetamine.

Police driving by smelled the stink of meth cooking through Shetler’s open garage door.  They knocked on his door.  He came out to meet them and was cuffed.  Officers then searched his house and kept him there, where Shetler admitted he used his garage to cook meth.  Oops. 

Shetler’s confession was “central to the prosecution’s case” and because it likely came from the illegal searches his conviction had to be reversed, Reinhardt said.

 Case:  U.S. v. Valenzuela-Espinoza, No. 10-10060

 U.S. v. Shetler,  No. 10-50478

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