Friday, August 11, 2006
Court Overturns Change of Venue in Federal Drug Case
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A Compton resident who sold drugs in Lynwood for use in the manufacture of methamphetamine was properly tried in federal court in Sacramento, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
The panel reversed an order by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton granting a motion for change of venue and new trial, which Cesar Valdez-Santos brought after being convicted in connection with a methamphetamine trafficking operation.
Valdez-Santos sold pseudoephedrine, a chemical used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, to a group of men in the Los Angeles area in February 2002, prosecutors alleged.
The buyers, Jesus Arreguin, Jose Magana, and Jorge Ayala, took the pseudoephedrine pills to Rio Linda, located near Sacramento, where they ran a large methamphetamine lab. While they were manufacturing methamphetamines at the Rio Linda property with the pills allegedly purchased from Valdez-Santos, federal drug enforcement agents executed a search warrant and arrested them.
DEA agents subsequently arrested Valdez-Santos in May 2002 at his residence. He was ultimately charged and convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of conspiracy to possess and distribute, and possession of, “a listed chemical with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe it would be used to manufacture methamphetamine.”
Valdez-Santos made a motion for acquittal on the conspiracy conviction, which Karlton granted. The government did not appeal that decision.
As to his change-of-venue motion regarding the possession charge, the government argued on appeal that venue in the Eastern District was proper because he had been convicted under an aider and abetter theory. Under this theory, the government maintained, Valdez-Santos—who had clearly assisted the Rio Linda men in committing possession of the psuedoephedrine—could be tried as a principal as to the possession offense that occurred in the Eastern District. A principal, in turn, could be tried in any venue in any district in which the continuing crime of possession took place.
Valdez-Santos argued that proper venue lay in the Central District where the alleged drug sale took place, rather than the Eastern District where the Rio Linda men were ultimately found in possession of the pills.
The Ninth Circuit panel ruled that the defendant’s connection with the Eastern District was sufficient to make venue in that district proper.
Writing for the court, Senior Judge Betty B. Fletcher explained that the jury had been properly instructed on aiding and abetting and could have convicted Valdez-Santos under that theory of liability.
However, Fletcher clarified, the court was not endorsing a broad and sweeping theory of venue.
“We do not hold that an aider and abetter to a continuing crime can in all circumstances be tried in any district where the substantive offense took place,” she said.
Noting the policy of safeguarding criminal defendants against unfairness and hardship, Fletcher said the court was “comfortable” with upholding venue because the particular facts indicated Valdez-Santos had a link to the Eastern District that reached beyond the current offense.
The jury could infer that he contemplated a continuing business relationship involving repeat sales with the Rio Linda men, Fletcher wrote, based on trial testimony that he was a large-scale dealer in narcotics and that he recognized Magana from Mexico.
The case is United States v. Valdez-Santos, 05-10360.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company