Late last week the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals released a ruling in the Rodrigo Macias-Farias case. The incident involved Macias-Farias who was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 320 months in prison. He appealed his conviction, claiming that the district court made a mistake denying his motion for a mistrial and that his sentence was unfairly enhanced due to an obstruction of justice charge. Though the Sixth Circuit disagreed with Macias-Farias about the mistrial, the judges did agree that due to a procedural error his case should be remanded for resentencing.
The complicated affair began when DEA agents spotted a truck carrying 1,600 pounds of marijuana.
The driver of the truck told the agents that he was told to take the truck to an undisclosed location near Louisville, KY and, fearing his own arrest, agreed to cooperate with the DEA agents. While the DEA supervised the transaction, the man drove his truck into a parking lot outside Louisville where a van registered to Macias-Farias pulled up and eventually drove way. The agents claim to have maintained a constant visual surveillance of the truck all night, yet when the truck was finally searched the next day they discovered that the entire cargo of 1,600 pounds of pot had miraculously gone missing.
DEA agents next applied pressure on one of Macias-Farias’ associates, Sean Lacefield. Lacefield agreed to cooperate and set up a drug buy with Macias-Farias. Adding further humiliation to the DEA, agents got lost on the way to the drug deal and missed the transaction. Lacefield eventually tipped off the DEA to yet another drug shipment which they were able to catch only because the truck carrying the 3,700 pounds of marijuana got stuck in a ditch.
At trial, a DEA agent on cross-examination revealed a new bit of information. Evidently a statement from another party, a woman named Amber Babor, helped lead the DEA to suspect Macias-Farias and played a part in their previous attempt to set up a drug buy in Louisville with Lacefield. The problem is that her statement was never disclosed to the defense counsel, something that defense argued was a Brady violation and which denied Macias-Farias his right to confrontation given that Babor was not present in court. The defense then moved for a mistrial which was denied by the lower court.
The Sixth Circuit concluded that the lower court’s denial of the motion for mistrial was appropriate given that for a Brady claim to prevail, a defendant must show that the evidence that was withheld was favorable to the accused, either because it was exculpatory or because it was impeaching. Macias-Farias failed to show that the evidence was favorable to him. If anything, the Sixth Circuit says, the evidence was inculpatory rather than exculpatory.
To read the full opinion, click here
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)