United States v. Liera-Morales

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Evidence
  • Date Filed: 07-21-2014
  • Case #: 12-10548
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Circuit Judges Wallace and Gould
  • Full Text Opinion

An ongoing hostage situation is an emergency situation for the purposes of determining whether statements made during police interrogations are nontestimonial.

Following his participation in a kidnap for ransom involving Franklin Aguilar-Avila (“Aguilar”) a jury convicted Jose Antonio Liera-Morales (“Liera-Morales”). Liera-Morales, along with other members of a human-trafficking ring, blackmailed Aguilar’s mother, Sonia Avila (“Avila”) by telephoning her and demanding a ransom for Aguilar’s return. Following a call from the captors and Avila’s subsequent call to 911, Houston Immigrants and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agent Jose Goyco (“Goyco”) became involved. Goyco planned to record an arranged phone call from Avila to the captors. Unfortunately, Goyco was unsuccessful in recording the conversation in which Avila relayed information to the captors that a man would meet them to pay the ransom money. Once Goyco left Avila’s house, she received another call from the captors, which she reported to the authorities. During the sting operation to rescue Aguilar, agents intercepted the captors’ vehicle, rescuing Aguilar and arresting Liera-Morales. Liera-Morales appealed his conviction challenging Goyco’s trial testimony concerning statements made to Goyco by Avila about the phone call between Avila and the captors. The primary purpose of the call Avila made to the captors was to facilitate Aguilar’s rescue. Under Davis v. Washington, “statements are nontestimonial when made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.” The panel determined that the hostage situation involving Aguilar was an emergency situation causing the statements to fall within the ongoing emergency situation contemplated by Davis. Therefore, the panel upheld Liera-Morales’ conviction holding that Goyco’s testimony regarding the phone call did not violate Liera-Morales’s Confrontation Clause rights. AFFIRMED.

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