United States v. Sanchez

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 11-01-2011
  • Case #: 10-50192
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judges Berzon and Fisher.
  • Full Text Opinion

A closing argument which asks the jury to consider the social ramifications of a nonguilty verdict may create an overly prejudicial effect and result in reversal, if there are not proper steps taken to mitigate the effect.

Sanchez was convicted of importation of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. Sanchez was caught trying to enter the US from Mexico in a car he knew to contain drugs. He argued that he was forced to transport the drugs or drug cartels would harm his family. His appeal is based on the argument that statements made by the prosecutor during closing arguments rendered the trial unfair. Specifically, in rebuttal, the prosecutor made a comment about sending a hypothetical memo instructing drug traffickers to claim that their families were threatened because then they would get away with it. There was no objection to this comment at the time it was made, thus, the Court will review for plain error. In order to reverse, the Court must find that the statement was both improper and substantially prejudiced the trial. The Court notes that even if these two prongs are met, the Court should only correct egregious errors. The Court found that the comment was improper because it urged the jury to make a decision for reasons other than the guilt or innocence of Sanchez. The comment was a claim about the potential ramification of finding for the defendant. This is improper because it appeals to the passions and fears of the jury. The Court also concludes that the comment was prejudicial because the district court did not offer curative instructions sufficient to mitigate the effect on the jury. There was no objection at the time, the comment came in the rebuttal right before the jury went to deliberate, and the instruction to the jury resulted in a prejudicial effect and an unfair trial for the defendant. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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