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United States v. Vera

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 25, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Armando Reyes Vera, AKA Mando, AKA Armando Vera, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Salvador Reyes Vera, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted May 17, 2018 Pasadena, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California James V. Selna, District Judge, Presiding D.C. Nos. 8:08-cr-00280-JVS-2, 8:08-cr-00280-JVS-1

          Thomas Paul Sleisenger (argued), Los Angeles, California, for Defendant-Appellant Armando Reyes Vera.

          Gretchen Fusilier (argued), Carlsbad, California, for Defendant-Appellant Salvador Reyes Vera.

          Bram M. Alden (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Lawrence S. Middleton, Chief, Criminal Division; United States Attorney's Office, Los Angeles, California; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: Kim McLane Wardlaw, Jacqueline H. Nguyen, and John B. Owens, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Criminal Law

         The panel vacated two defendants' sentences imposed on remand for resentencing in a drug-trafficking conspiracy case, and again remanded for resentencing.

         In the prior appeal, this court affirmed the convictions but remanded the sentences because unreliable evidence had been presented to the jury.

         The panel held that the district court, on remand, committed reversible error by relying heavily upon co-conspirator plea agreements to determine the drug quantities attributable to the defendants on the ground that the plea agreements were reliable statements against interest under Fed.R.Evid. 804(b)(3). The panel held that district courts may not rely solely on Rule 804(b)(3) to use non-self-inculpatory statements in a co-conspirator's plea agreement to determine a defendant's drug-quantity liability.

         The panel recognized that co-defendant plea agreements could have some probative value at sentencing if otherwise supported by sufficient indicia of reliability. On this record, the panel concluded there were not sufficient indicia of reliability to support the plea agreements' probable accuracy as to drug quantity, and that the factual bases in the plea agreements were not corroborated by other information that made their reliability apparent.

          OPINION

          OWENS, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Defendants (and brothers) Salvador and Armando Vera appeal their sentences for drug-trafficking conspiracy. We previously affirmed their convictions but remanded their sentences because unreliable evidence had been presented to the jury. See United States v. Vera, 770 F.3d 1232, 1253 (9th Cir. 2014) (Vera I). On remand, the district court used evidence of questionable value in determining the drug quantities attributable to each defendant, so we again vacate and remand for resentencing.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. ...


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