United States v. Matus-Zayas

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 08-24-2011
  • Case #: 09-10294
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Rawlinson for the Court; Circuit Judges B. Fletcher and Tallman
  • Full Text Opinion

The statute 18 U.S.C. § 3144 does not abrogate the constitutional requirement of establishing a material witness unavailable prior to allowing preserved video-taped testimony at trial, when material witnesses have been released to their country of origin and a subpoena for their presence would be impracticable.

Juan Leonardo Matus-Zayas was convicted for harboring and transporting illegal aliens. He appealed the conviction, specifically the decision to admit video-taped depositions of material witnesses under 18 U.S.C § 3144 and argued for the first time on appeal, that the statute is facially invalid and the trial court erred by admitting the depositions at trial without showing witness’s unavailability. Matus-Zayas contends, also for the first time on appeal, that the magistrate judge did not comply with § 3144 by denying his motion to detain the material witnesses for trial. The witnesses, who were illegally in the United States, were released to the Department of Homeland Security, to be deported to their country of origin. A subpoena to preserve the presence of material witnesses was impracticable. The Court held no plain error was committed. Matus-Zayas contends that his Confrontation Clause rights were violated because the government never established evidence that the material witnesses were unavailable and the video depositions were admitted at trial. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court plainly erred in allowing the introduction of the contested depositions without showing unavailability, and affected Matus-Zayas substantial Confrontation Clause rights. However, the Court held that the error did not seriously affect the integrity, fairness or public reputation of the proceedings. Matus-Zayas contends that the district court failed to comply with the General Order 05-34 to allow his attorney three working days to depose material witnesses. However, the record reflects that Matus-Zayas’s attorney never requested to depose the detained material witnesses prior to their release, and thus no plain error was committed. AFFIRMED.

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