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7th Circuit upholds conviction over DEA agent withholding evidence

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A man convicted of federal charges of distributing cocaine was not deprived a fair trial after a government agent failed to record or relay exculpatory evidence from a co-defendant, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A jury in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division convicted Mota of attempting to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine and of possessing with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. Mota was convicted with a co-defendant, Jorge Ponce, after an undercover government agent bought drugs from them during a sting operation.

Mota argued on appeal in U.S. v. Armando Mota, 10-1486, that Drug Enforcement Administration agent Robert Aponte interviewed Ponce after his arrest and that Ponce “assumed complete responsibility for the crime and proclaimed Mota’s innocence.” Mota said Ponce told Aponte that a man named “Teflon” had delivered the drugs that had been purchased by the undercover agent, but that Aponte neither recorded nor told supervisors about his conversation with Ponce.

“While the failure to transmit exculpatory evidence was inexcusable, Mota learned of this evidence at the start of his trial and thoroughly presented it to the jury,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote in a unanimous opinion. “Also, because Mota had the opportunity to cross-examine the negligent agent and because Ponce testified on Mota’s behalf, we cannot conclude that Mota was denied a fair trial.”

“There is more than sufficient evidence from which a rational juror could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Mota intended to distribute one kilogram of cocaine at Ponce’s house, and that he attempted to do so,” the ruling says.

 

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