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The elements of smuggling aliens in violation of 8 U.S.C.S. § 1324(a)(2) are (1) that the defendant knowingly brought an alien to the United States; and (2) that the defendant knew or was in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien had not received prior official authorization to come to or enter the United States.
Defendant, Gustavo Dominguez, a professional sports agent, was convicted of smuggling five Cuban baseball players into the United States, transporting the players from Miami to Los Angeles, and harboring them there until they applied for asylum. The prosecution alleged that defendant, and several codefendants, conspired to bring, unsuccessfully attempted to bring, and then successfully brought five Cuban baseball players to the United States so that the players could pursue professional baseball careers. The prosecution further alleged that defendant had a role in transporting and harboring the players after their arrival in the United States. Defendant anticipated that, after the players arrived, he would represent them as their agent, negotiate any potential baseball contract, and collect a percentage of their earnings as a fee. The indictment alleged, and the jury found, that defendant smuggled the players for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain. Based on this finding, the district court imposed a five-year mandatory minimum sentence under 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(2)(B)(ii). Defendant appealed, arguing that the evidence did not support any of his convictions.
Did the evidence support the defendant’s convictions of transporting and harboring aliens?
The court held that the evidence did not support defendant’s convictions of transporting and harboring aliens. According to the court, a reasonable jury could not have found beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant transported the Cuban baseball players from Miami to Los Angeles in order to further their illegal status; to the contrary, the players were taken to an experienced immigration attorney shortly after arriving in Los Angeles for the purpose of processing the players through immigration, and the players were paroled three months later. During that three-month period, the players lived freely, openly, and in no way acted in a manner suggesting they were avoiding immigration officials. The evidence did not support the conclusion that defendant substantially facilitated the Cuban players' escaping detection from immigration officials.