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United States v. Liera-Morales

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 21, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOSE ANTONIO LIERA-MORALES, AKA Jose Antonio Liera Morales, Defendant-Appellant

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California: March 10, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. D.C. No. 4:12-cr-00115-JGZ-CRP-1. Jennifer G. Zipps, District Judge, Presiding.

Criminal Law

The panel affirmed convictions stemming from the defendant's participation in a scheme to kidnap for ransom Franklin Aguilar-Avila, in a case in which the defendant was part of a human-trafficking ring that contacted Aguila-Avila's mother, Sonia Avila, to demand payment for her son's release.

The panel held that the district court's admission of a government agent's testimony recounting Avila's description of the telephone call in which she arranged for the safe return of her son did not violate the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment because the call was made primarily to address an ongoing emergency and the challenged statements were nontestimonial.

The panel held that even if the Rule of Completeness applies, the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting a government agent's testimony about portions of the defendant's post-arrest interview but precluding the defendant from introducing exculpatory statements from that interview.

Keith J. Hilzendeger (argued), Federal Public Defender's Office of Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona, for Defendant-Appellant.

Kyle J. Healey (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; John S. Leonardo, United States Attorney; Robert L. Miskell, Assistant United States Attorney, Appellate Chief, Tucson, Arizona, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before: J. Clifford Wallace, M. Margaret McKeown, and Ronald M. Gould, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge McKeown.

OPINION

Page 1106

McKEOWN, Circuit Judge:

Jose Antonio Liera-Morales appeals from the judgment following his jury convictions stemming from his participation in a scheme to kidnap for ransom Franklin Aguilar-Avila (" Aguilar" ). Liera-Morales was part of a human-trafficking ring that contacted Aguilar's mother, Sonia Avila, to

Page 1107

demand payment for her son's release. Under stressful and emotional circumstances, Avila spoke with the traffickers by telephone to arrange for the safe return of her son and then recounted that conversation to a government agent. That agent's trial testimony about the telephone call is the focus of this appeal. We hold that the district court's admission of the agent's testimony recounting Avila's description of the call did not violate the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment because the call was made ...


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