Friday, September 13, 2002
Circumstantial Evidence Sufficient for Alien-Trafficking Conviction—Court
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Circumstantial evidence was sufficient to convict a woman who accompanied three undocumented aliens on a flight from Japan to Los Angeles of immigration crimes, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
Judge Stephen S. Trott concluded that Yuami Yoshida was properly convicted of knowingly encouraging unauthorized aliens to come to the United States, and of bringing aliens into the country for financial gain.
Prosecutors presented evidence that in August 2001 three families in the People’s Republic of China independently made arrangements with an unidentified person, known only as “Snakehead,” to smuggle Zhuan Dan Lin, Cheng Huang, and Yue Rong Lin into the United States via Japan. In exchange for Snakehead’s illicit services, each family paid $50,000.
Witnesses testified that at the Narita Airport in Japan, a male escort furnished the aliens with the necessary travel documents and pointed out Yoshida as she walked slowly at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The aliens were told that she was their escort and that they must follow her.
Yoshida swiftly navigated through the airport and led the aliens onto their flight without ever directly communicating with them or making eye contact. She also boarded the flight to Los Angeles International Airport and sat in the row behind the aliens.
There was testimony that upon arrival at LAX two baggage claim checks issued to the aliases of two of the aliens were found hidden in Yoshida’s underwear. The baggage claim checks were discovered by an INS inspector whose suspicion was aroused when he noticed a bulge in her underwear during a pat down.
Prosecutors also alleged that Yoshida had identified the apparently non existent Miyako Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. as her destination on an immigration form.
Attorneys for Yoshida argued that the circumstantial evidence presented during the trial before District Judge Audrey B. Collins in the United States District Court for the Central District of California was not sufficient for the jury to convict. Collins disagreed and sentenced Yoshida to three years imprisonment and to three years of supervised release.
Trott declared that the court must respect the exclusive dominion of the jury to draw reasonable inferences from the facts in the record.
The opinion cataloged a list of events documented in the record to uphold the reasonableness of the jury’s decision that Yoshida was indeed assisting the aliens, and not merely an innocent bystander.
“While there might be some situations involving an unlucky airline passenger who innocently walks through an airport ahead of aliens, simultaneously shows up at a gate with a group of aliens, boards an aircraft at the same time as aliens, and is seated directly behind the aliens for the duration of the flight, this situation is clearly distinguishable. The fact that Yoshida concealed the baggage claims bearing the fake names of the aliens in the bulge in her underwear is strong evidence that she was not some unlucky bystander, but rather an escort. . ..”
In addition to rejecting Yoshida’s argument that the evidence presented against her was insufficient, Trott also disposed of her claim that she had not “brought” aliens into the country. Trott explained that “brings to” must be given its ordinary and natural meaning and was not intended by Congress to be limited to the act of physically transporting as suggested by Yoshida.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William C. Bottger Jr., who prosecuted the case, said the opinion was “a reaffirmation of the basic principle that circumstantial evidence must be treated the same as direct evidence” and that the jury is a “competent institution” to weigh the evidence put before it.
Robert Ramsey Jr., the attorney for the defendant, was not available to comment.
The case is U.S. v. Yoshida, 01-50311.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company