United States v. Munguia

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 11-27-2012
  • Case #: 10-50253
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge W. Fletcher for the Court; Circuit Judge Reinhardt; Concurrence by District Judge Breyer
  • Full Text Opinion

A trial court’s jury instruction to use a hypothetical reasonable person standard to evaluate “reasonable cause to believe,” when a subjective standard from the defendant’s perspective is proper, is not harmless error and, therefore, warrants reversal of a conviction.

Kenia Munguia appealed her conviction of several counts of drug-related charges under 21 U.S.C. § 841(c)(2), including possession of pseudoephedrine (an ingredient in over-the-counter cold medication), knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine. The trial court instructed the jury that it must use a hypothetical reasonable person standard, under which the jury found Munguia guilty of all counts. On appeal, Munguia argued that the trial court erred in refusing her requested jury instruction, “specifying that reasonable cause to believe must be evaluated from [the defendant’s] perspective.” The Court agreed, holding that, under § 841(c)(2), the jury must evaluate “reasonable cause to believe” through the “lens of the defendant.” Further, the Court concluded that the error was not harmless, because is was not “clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found the defendant guilty absent the error.” Because the jury heard conflicting testimony, it could have acquitted Munguia had it believed her testimony and had it been instructed to evaluate “reasonable cause to believe” according to her perspective. REVERSED.

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