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Supreme Court wrestles with dispute over expert testimony in drug ‘mule’ case

By 37ci3 Mar19,2024



WASHINGTON — When thousands of dollars worth of pure methamphetamine was found in the car she was driving, Delilah Guadalupe Diaz claimed she had no knowledge of the illegal shipment.

Diaz’s argument in court failed, but his legal battle continued Supreme Court Tuesday, considering whether prosecutors will present evidence that people convicted of being drug mules generally knew what they were carrying.

Diaz was sentenced to seven years in prison and is appealing his drug-trafficking conviction.

Diaz, a US citizen living in California, was detained by a Border Patrol agent in August 2020 after crossing from Mexico into the US at the San Ysidro port of entry.

He told the agent that the car belonged to his girlfriend. The agent then asked him to roll down the back window. He said it was handmade and the clerk tried to open it himself. according to Department of Justicethe agent was met with resistance and heard a crunching sound, which could indicate drugs were hidden inside the vehicle.

The search revealed 55 kilograms of methamphetamine with a retail value of $368,550.

Diaz claimed he didn’t know the drugs were in the car, saying his girlfriend lent it to him when he returned to the United States from a trip to Mexico.

At issue in the Supreme Court is the revised rule of evidence after the acquittal of John Hinckley Jr. in the 1981 assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan by insanity. expert witnesses about the defendant’s mental state

The rule states that “an expert witness shall not give an opinion as to the mental state of the accused or whether he has a condition constituting the offense charged or the defense.”

At Diaz’s trial, a Department of Homeland Security agent testified that drug cartels typically don’t allow large quantities of drugs to be transported, known as “blind mules,” that are unaware of their cargo.

Diaz’s attorney unsuccessfully sought to have the statement excluded, saying it was the “functional equivalent” of telling the jury he knew about the drugs.

During oral arguments on Tuesday, the justices did not appear to be satisfied with either side’s interpretation of the law, although there were signs that the government might ultimately prevail.

Several judges have noted that in such cases, the defense can simply call its own witness to rebut the prosecution’s expert.

Diaz’s attorneys could have called “an expert who said there was no way anyone could have suspected or known there were drugs in the car,” said Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Some judges have also noted that general knowledge of the type of people found to be drug mules may be admissible unless the witness directly addresses the defendant’s state of mind.

“Couldn’t you characterize it as an expert speaking to a class of people who had drugs in their car and knew about it?” said Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Justice Department lawyer Matthew Guarnieri acknowledged that the government did not need to present the kinds of evidence it presented in Diaz’s drug mule prosecution. Such evidence has already been banned in courts including the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Texas.

Judge Neil Gorsuch, sympathetic to Diaz’s argument, addressed the issue, citing other evidence in Diaz’s case that could have supported a conviction.

“The defendant could not open the window. The agent knows that this usually means that there are drugs on the dashboard of the car,” he said. “I mean, when he says, ‘I can’t roll my window down,’ you can jump to conclusions.”



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By 37ci3

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