Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Testimony from a law enforcement agent, not based on personal knowledge, describing the roles played in the drug conspiracy by individual defendants, amounts to impermissible testimony from the agent that each of the defendants was guilty of the conspiracy charged.
Appellants Juan Mieses and Jose Reyes-Guerrero were arrested in a reverse sting operation after they drove to a sham drug deal, with a third co-defendant, in a vehicle containing $100,000 in cash. A jury found both appellants guilty of a single drug conspiracy count. On appeal, the pair claimed that their convictions must be vacated because of three significant errors at trial: (1) the government's use of improper overview testimony from the lead law enforcement agent in the case, (2) the indirect admission of the third co-defendant's out-of-court statement implicating appellants, and (3) the district court's refusal to allow the jury to hear an audiotape recorded on the day of their arrests. Reyes-Guerrero further asserted that he was entitled to a judgment of acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's verdict.
Were Cruz’s opinions as to defendants' roles in the conspiracy, based in part on Torres' perceptions of the interaction, admissible?
The court first noted that the overview testimony at issue— specifically, Agent Cruz’s assertions that defendants played the role of buyers —was improper. The agent's testimony about defendants' roles lacked a foundation of personal knowledge of facts essential to his opinion, usurped the jury's fact-finding function, and improperly endorsed the government's theory of the case. The government's heavy reliance on the informant's credibility made the overview evidence particularly damaging. In effect, the jurors were told it was unnecessary to make their own assessment of a co-defendant's credibility because the agent did it for them when he announced unequivocally that defendants were "the owners" of the money. The court also concluded that the district court erred in allowing testimony revealing a codefendant's inculpatory statement. Those two significant errors entitled appellants to a new trial.