United States v. Bustamante

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: 08-07-2012
  • Case #: 11-50075
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge B. Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judge Wardlaw; Partial Concurrence and Partial Dissent by District Judge Wardlaw
  • Full Text Opinion

For purposes of admissibility, a transcript of a birth certificate constitutes an “affidavit testifying to the contents of the birth records.” Admission of such evidence without the opportunity for cross-examination violates the Confrontation Clause.

Napoleon Bustamante appealed his convictions of illegal reentry, making a false statement in a passport application, and making false statements in supplemental security income benefits. All convictions relied on the government’s showing that he was not a United States citizen. To prove citizenship, the government introduced Exhibit 1, a typed document that was a transcript of his birth certificate from the Philippines, which a civil registrar produced for the Air Force’s citizenship investigation decades earlier. Bustamante unsuccessfully objected to admission of this evidence based on proof of poor record keeping and that the Philippine government no longer had his birth records. On appeal, the Court found that admission of Exhibit 1 violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment because it was: not a copy of his birth certificate but a new record; an “affidavit testifying to the contents of the birth records;” “functionally identical” to a testimony; and “made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial.” Bustamante never had opportunity to cross-examine the civil registrar and to “test the reliability of a significant part of the government’s case.” The government failed to prove that the district court’s error in admitting the evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Exhibit 1 was important to the Government’s case, directly answered the key question of where Bustamante was born, and buffered the new information of the Philippines’s lack of birth records. Thus, the district court erred in admitting Exhibit 1 into evidence. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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