United States v. Flores

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 09-23-2015
  • Case #: 14-50027
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wardlaw for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson, McLane, and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

Where the government makes a misstatement of the law and misleading statements to the jury during a trial, the defendant’s appeal of their conviction will only be overturned if the defendant can prove that the error was plain and they were prejudiced as a result of the error.

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer stopped Citlalli Flores (Flores) while she attempted to enter the United States. Flores began exemplifying suspicious involuntary actions including shaky hands, which lead CBP Officer Benjamin Brown to search Flores’s car; CBP Officer Brown subsequently found 16.44 kilograms (36.24 pounds) of marijuana. Flores was convicted and sentenced in the district court for importing marijuana into the United States pursuant to 21 U.S.C. §§ 952 and 960. Thereafter, Flores alleged as the basis of this appeal that the prosecution distorted her testimony in closing when the prosecution asked Flores, “so it’s undisputed that on the day of your arrest, you definitely brought drugs between the United States and Mexico?” and if it was “illegal” to bring marijuana into Mexico. Flores was convicted of importing rather than exporting marijuana. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit resolved the issue of whether the prosecution in the district court committed misconduct. In order to determine whether prosecutorial misconduct occurred, given that Flores did not object to the prosecution’s misstatement of the law and facts during the trial, Flores carried the burden of proving the government’s actions constituted plain error amounting to a reversal. The panel held that although there was error and that error was plain, the prosecutor’s questions to Flores during closing and the prosecution’s misstatement of the law to the jury likely did not elicit prejudice Flores’ case. Thus, Flores could not prove that the government’s misconduct rose to the level of plain error. AFFIRMED.

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