United States v. Rangel-Guzman

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 05-28-2014
  • Case #: 13-50059
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Chief Judge Kozinski for the Court; Circuit Judge Clifton and Senior District Judge Rakoff
  • Full Text Opinion

In a criminal trial, a prosecutor must use another witness to impeach prior statements of the witness.

Kevin Rangel-Guzman was convicted of importing over 200 pounds of marijuana from Mexico to the United States in his relative’s vehicle. When stopped, Rangel-Guzman claimed he did not know the drugs were in the backseat, even though the shape of the backseat was distorted and it seemed impossible he did not know. Before trial Rangel-Guzman was questioned by an Assistant United States Attorney (“AUSA”). During trial, when the AUSA cross-examined Rangel-Guzman after he had told a different story, she repeatedly referred to statements he made to her in a pre-trial meeting. The United States Attorney’s Office agreed that the line of questioning was improper because Rangel-Guzman was unable to cross-examine the AUSA and juries are left to choose whether they believe the government or the defendant. The defense did not object to the questioning by the AUSA during the trial. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the AUSA should have used testimony from an agent, who was also present, to impeach Rangel-Guzman’s prior statements. The panel also found that Rangel-Guzman would still have been found guilty of importation of illegal drugs, even though the panel agreed that the line of questioning was improper and without an objection should have been stopped by the trial judge. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part and REMANDED.

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