United States v. Cabrera-Beltran No. 10-4084

Decided: Nov. 10, 2011

Leopoldo Cabrera-Beltran was convicted of conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and heroin. Defendant appealed on multiple grounds, and the Fourth Circuit affirmed. First, defendant contended that his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the district court struck three Spanish-speaking prospective jurors during voir dire. The three prospective jurors indicated an ability to understand Spanish language, and an unwillingness to accept the English translations of the Spanish testimony and documents. The Fourth Circuit held that this was not an abuse of discretion. Next, defendant contended that the admission of Treasury Enforcement Communication System records to show that the defendant and other co-conspirators crossed the border on certain dates and in certain vehicles violated his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right to cross-examine the border patrol personnel who produced the information and statements contained in those records. The Fourth Circuit held that Treasury Enforcement Communication System records are not testimonial and rejected defendants’ argument. The defendant’s third argument was that because the jury found defendant guilty of the cocaine offenses in an amount less than that alleged in the indictment, this amounted to a variance that required reversal. The court concluded there was no variance, explaining that a defendant charged with conspiracy to import or distribute an amount of a controlled substance can be convicted of one of the lesser included offenses based on a smaller amount of the substance. The defendant alleged that the indictment was defective, but this allegation was waived because defendant failed to provide a showing of good cause. Defendant argued that the testimony of witnesses was vague, however there was no error here. Further, the Fourth Circuit held that the testimony of a witness who bought heroin from the defendant was admissible under FRE 404(b) as relevant to prove knowledge and intent. Finally, the defendant argued that calculation of drug quantity was incorrect and the sentencing enhancement for defendant’s “aggravating role” in the conspiracy should not have been applied. The court said that any error in calculation was harmless and that the sentencing enhancement was properly applied.

Full Opinion

-Sara I. Salehi

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