United States v. Jesus-Casteneda

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: 01-30-2013
  • Case #: 11-10397
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Per Curiam; Circuit Judges Alarcón, Trott, and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

“A confidential informant’s testimony at trial in a wig-and-mustache disguise did not violate the Confrontation Clause, where the disguise was necessary to further the witness’s safety and the reliability of his testimony was otherwise assured.”

The district court ruled that a confidential informant (“CI”) was allowed to wear a disguise while testifying during a drug trafficking trial, noting both the obvious danger present in the case and the jury’s ability to still determine the CI’s credibility. Jesus-Casteneda (“Casteneda”) appealed his conviction for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(viii), arguing that the use of the disguise violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment and denied him due process. The Ninth Circuit reviewed for abuse of discretion, and rejected Casteneda’s Confrontation Clause and due process claims. The Court reasoned that a “face-to-face confrontation requirement is not absolute,” and noted that courts should consider the important state interest and whether the reliability of evidence could be otherwise assured. Reliability “turns upon the extent to which the proceedings respect the four elements of confrontation: physical presence, oath, cross-examination, and observation by the trier of fact.” The CI’s disguise was for a necessary state interest—the witness’s safety. Regarding reliability, all four elements were met. The Court determined that the trier of fact was still able to hear the CI’s voice, see his entire face, and observe his body language. As to the due process claim, the Court noted that the CI’s disguise might prejudice the jury into thinking that Casteneda was dangerous enough to require protection of witness identities. However, this was harmless error. “It was clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury would have delivered a guilty verdict” in light of the evidence against Casteneda, which included a video showing Casteneda delivering the methamphetamines, Casteneda’s own contradictory testimony, and law enforcement eyewitness testimony. AFFIRMED.

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