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7th Circuit: Drug convictions stand

November 17, 2010

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed drug convictions against two defendants, holding the lower court didn’t err in admitting a police officer’s voice identification testimony regarding one of the defendants.

In United States of America v. Rosalio Cruz-Rea and Zoyla Garcia-Rea, Nos. 09-3591, 10-1355, Rosalio Cruz-Rea and Zoyla Garcia-Rea appealed their convictions of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine; Cruz-Rea was also convicted of possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. The two were involved in a shipment of cocaine from out west to Indianapolis that was under investigation by authorities. Cruz-Rea had numerous recorded telephone conversations in Spanish discussing drug activities; Garcia-Rea was arrested after police pulled over a vehicle for not having a license plate light. Police were tipped off by an informant that the car may be carrying drugs. Garcia-Rea admitted the gift-wrapped packages in the car contained cocaine.

Cruz-Rea appealed the decision that allowed officer Marytza Toy to testify that she recognized Cruz-Rea as a speaker in the recorded telephone calls based on her repeated listening to a recording of Cruz-Rea’s booking process. He claimed the government didn’t lay sufficient foundation to allow it under Federal Evidence Rule 901(b)(5). The 7th Circuit held that the witness had met its interpretation of the standard required of “minimal familiarity” with the voice. Given the length of the voice example she listened to and the number of times she listened to it, the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the government laid sufficient foundation for her testimony. The government also had two witnesses testify as to having the exact conversations on the recordings, wrote Judge William Bauer.

The defendants also challenged the admittance of the government’s transcripts of the 24 wiretapped phone conversations, that the jury could use transcripts that identified the alleged speakers by name, and that the jury could view the transcripts during deliberation. Focusing on the argument about a jury instruction before the transcripts were admitted, the 7th Circuit noted that although the District Judge could have phrased the instruction differently, it sufficiently informed the jury of the law and their role.

“We find that an instruction informing the jury to consider only the transcripts before it, as opposed to fashioning its own translation, cannot be read as an instruction to treat the transcripts as the evidence. This instruction did not misstate the law, mislead the jury, omit relevant portions of the law, or unduly emphasize any part of the evidence,” wrote Judge Bauer.

The 7th Circuit also affirmed admitting non-hearsay co-conspirator statements, Cruz-Rea’s offense level increase, and that the police officer that pulled over Garcia-Rea’s car had probable cause to search the car.

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