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United States v. Esparza

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
791 F.3d 1067 (2015)


Facts

Arturo Esparza (defendant) lived in Tijuana, Mexico, just south of the United States border. Esparza’s two children lived with Esparza’s mother in San Diego, California. Esparza drove a Chevy Lumina from Tijuana to the border. At the border checkpoint, United States border agents discovered over 50 kilograms of marijuana hidden in the gas tank and the dashboard. Esparza was arrested, and the federal government (plaintiff) charged Esparza with illegally importing marijuana into the United States. The vehicle was registered to Diana Hernandez, and the federal government sent Hernandez a notice of seizure. The notice stated that the vehicle was being seized because it was used to transport and conceal over 50 kilograms of marijuana. After receiving the notice, Hernandez filed a notice with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), stating that the car had been sold to Esparza before he was arrested. Esparza filed a motion to exclude the notice filed with the DMV based on hearsay and the Confrontation Clause. The trial court denied the motion and permitted the notice to be introduced into evidence. During the trial, Esparza asserted that he did not know about the marijuana and had borrowed the car from a friend. Hernandez was available to testify and was present at the courthouse during the trial, but the federal government did not call her as a witness. Hernandez’s ex-boyfriend testified that she had asked him to sell the car. Hernandez’s ex-boyfriend sold the car to Ricardo Dominguez Morales but did not file the notice with the DMV at the time of the sale. After receiving the notice of seizure, Hernandez’s ex-boyfriend asked Morales to have the DMV notice filled out. According to the testimony, Morales provided Hernandez’s boyfriend with the notice, but it stated that the car had been sold to Esparza. Hernandez then signed and filed that notice with the DMV. The federal government argued that the DMV notice established that Esparza owned the car and therefore knew about the hidden marijuana. The jury found Esparza guilty, and Esparza appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nguyen, J.)

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