United States v. Pragedio Espinoza-Valdez

FOR PUBLICATION UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, No. 16-10395 Plaintiff-Appellee, D.C. No. v. 2:15-cr-01465- JJT-1 PRAGEDIO ESPINOZA-VALDEZ, Defendant-Appellant. OPINION Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona John Joseph Tuchi, District Judge, Presiding Argued and Submitted November 17, 2017 San Francisco, California Filed May 7, 2018 Before: Johnnie B. Rawlinson and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges, and Paul L. Friedman, * District Judge. Opinion by Judge Friedman; Dissent by Judge Rawlinson * The Honorable Paul L. Friedman, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, sitting by designation. 2 UNITED STATES V. ESPINOZA-VALDEZ SUMMARY ** Criminal Law The panel reversed convictions for conspiracy to import and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. The panel held that there was insufficient evidence for a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant entered into a conspiratorial agreement to import or distribute marijuana, where (1) the government’s case rested almost exclusively on expert testimony regarding drug traffickers’ use of scouts to facilitate the transportation of marijuana through the area in which Border Patrol agents observed the defendant and two unknown men; and (2) the government presented no evidence of (a) drugs that actually passed through or were intended to pass through that area under the defendant’s watch, or (b) any specific individuals with whom the defendant allegedly conspired. The panel emphasized that the government may not rely on expert testimony of drug courier profiles alone to establish guilt. Dissenting, Judge Rawlinson wrote that it cannot fairly be said that no reasonable juror could have found the essential elements of conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana beyond a reasonable doubt. ** This summary constitutes no part of the opinion of the court. It has been prepared by court staff for the convenience of the reader. UNITED STATES V. ESPINOZA-VALDEZ 3 COUNSEL Atmore Baggot (argued), Apache Junction, Arizona, for Defendant-Appellant. Brooke T. Afshari (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Krissa M. Lanham, Deputy Appellate Chief; Elizabeth A. Strange, First Assistant United States Attorney; United States Attorney’s Office, Phoenix, Arizona; for Plaintiff-Appellee. OPINION FRIEDMAN, District Judge: Pragedio Espinoza-Valdez appeals his convictions for conspiracy to import and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. He argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support either conviction and that the district court therefore erred in denying his motion for acquittal notwithstanding the verdict. We agree and reverse the two conspiracy convictions. 1 I. STANDARD OF REVIEW AND LEGAL AUTHORITY We review de novo whether, “after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” United States v. Nevils, 598 F.3d 1158, 1163–64 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc); accord 1 Because we find it necessary to reverse on this ground, we need not reach Espinoza-Valdez’s other arguments. 4 UNITED STATES V. ESPINOZA-VALDEZ United States v. Grovo, 826 F.3d 1207, 1213–14 (9th Cir. 2016); United States v. Egge, 223 ...

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