Immigrant Transport

Transporting Illegal Immigrants Requires Due Care

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Failure to Obtain Medical Help for an Illegal Alien Leads to Enhanced Sentencing for Transporter

US v. MunizUnited States v. Muniz (5th Circuit, 2015)

In August 2010, Demi Muniz planned to drive a group of illegal immigrants from Houston to Los Angeles. Just before the trip, one of the passengers appeared lethargic and dehydrated. Muniz contacted the passenger’s wife in Mexico, informing the wife that her husband was ill. The wife told Muniz that her husband was diabetic and needed to go to a hospital. Muniz decided against taking the passenger to the hospital, instead continuing the journey. Along the drive, the passenger began shivering and sweating, and eventually became unresponsive. Muniz dropped the unresponsive passenger off at a rest stop, where he was found dead the next day.

At trial, the jury found that Muniz placed the passenger’s life in jeopardy, and that he died as a result of Muniz’s conduct. Muniz was convicted of conspiracy to transport and conceal illegal aliens, resulting in a person’s death. Incorporating sentencing enhancements, she was sentenced to 85 months in prison, followed by a two-year term of supervised release. Muniz appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, challenging the district court’s imposition of sentencing enhancements that called for a tougher punishment.

The language of the sentencing enhancements used by the district court, stated the enhancements be used in sentencing for actions that “intentionally or recklessly creat[ed] a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury” and “caus[ed] another person’s death.”

First, Muniz argued that the district court’s imposition of the enhancements was improper because the manner in which she was transporting the passengers—riding in a van—was not dangerous and because she did not know that the passenger was gravely ill. The Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that reckless conduct includes “abandoning persons in a dangerous…area without adequate food, water, clothing, or protection from the elements.” Here, Muniz abandoned the passenger in an area without medical care.

The Court of Appeals distinguished this case from an earlier decision in United States v. Gomez-Cortez, where a sentencing enhancement did not apply because a passenger who died was not transported in a dangerous manner, and the mere fact that the defendant had been told that the passenger looked ill did not put her on notice that the passenger could not travel at all. 34 F. App’x 152 (5th Cir. 2002). Muniz likely knew the passenger was ill by his dehydrated appearance, by displaying symptoms of being hot and cold, and by the phone call with the passenger’s wife, stating the passenger was diabetic and needed medical attention.

Second, the Court of Appeals stated that district courts properly apply the sentencing enhancement if the defendant’s conduct is a “but-for cause” of a person’s death, consisting of both affirmative acts and omissions. United States v. Ramos-Delgado, 763 F.3d 398, 401-02. Muniz decided not to seek medical treatment for the passenger, even though, as the district court determined, she was within close range of several medical facilities and that according to expert testimony, the passenger likely could have survived with medical care.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s application of the sentencing enhancements because Muniz’s failure to get medical aid for the passenger under these circumstances placed the passenger at a substantial risk of death or serious injury and caused his death.

A Federal criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth will understand the federal sentencing guidelines and sentencing enhancements for a variety of cases. As you can see from the case above, distinguishing previous case law precedent from the case above had a direct impact on establishing the criteria for sentencing enhancements for the defendant, sentencing enhancements that determined the length and severity of punishment. This essay does not replace legal counsel or advice.

Texas criminal defense attorneys in Fort Worth

Voluntary Deportation as a Condition of Probation?

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Can the Court Require that a Person Be Deported as Part of a Plea Agreement?

Texas criminal defense attorneys in Fort WorthOn May 12, 2004, when Maricela Rodriguez Gutierrez was placed on community supervision, she agreed her community supervision status would subject her to twenty-nine supervisory conditions.  Fifteen of those conditions were general conditions, seven were financial, two were drug-related, two were education-related, and three were immigration-related.

One of the immigration-related requirements of her community supervision (i.e. probation) was that she obtain legal immigration status by the end of twelve months, and if she did not obtain legal status, to leave the country and reside in a location where she does have a legally authorized status.  As you can imagine, she failed to do this (if she had satisfied the condition, then I probably wouldn’t be writing about it).  Accordingly, the trial court revoked the community supervision.

Appellant now argues that the term requiring that she leave the United States was void and, thus, cannot support her revocation.  The 6th District Court of Appeals (Texarkana) agreed.  The Court held that upon revocation of community supervision, the violated term—that the defendant leave the U.S.—was void and the revocation could not stand.  The Court explained that immigration matters are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government therefore a condition of state community supervision requiring a defendant to leave the country violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  Thus, a defendant cannot agree and a court cannot order deportation as a part of the plea agreement.

See the Court’s full opinion in Gutierrez v. State.

5th Circuit United States v. Soto

Show Me Your Green Card | 5th Circuit Immigration Case

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5th Circuit United States v. SotoIn United States v. Soto, a case decided last month, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Federal) affirmed appellant’s conviction for unlawfully transporting an illegal alien.  The court admitted that this was a close case, but ultimately affirmed the ruling of the trial court denying the appellant’s motion to suppress.

Facts:  Immigration case.  Upon seeing Border Patrol agents, a passenger in appellant’s vehicle, exhibited a look of shock and immediately ducked down and slumped back, out of the agents’ sight. (The Court held that the only plausible explanation for this behavior is that the passenger was attempting to hide from the agents.)  Adding to the agents’ suspicion, when they pulled up alongside appellant’s vehicle, the passenger’s darkly tinted rear window, which was halfway down when the agents first saw it, had been completely rolled up.  Finally, the agents made their observations sixty miles from the border on a route known for illegal alien trafficking.
The 5th Circuit applied the Supreme Court standard for reasonable suspicion that was laid out in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975), wherein the Court held,

factors that may be considered in determining reasonable suspicion include: (1) the area’s proximity to the border; (2) characteristics of the area; (3) usual traffic patterns; (4) the agents’ experience in detecting illegal activity; (5) behavior of the driver; (6) particular aspects or characteristics of the vehicle; (7) information about recent illegal trafficking of aliens or narcotics in the area; and (8) the number of passengers and their appearance and behavior.

Explaining that no single factor is determinative in this test, the court held that under the totality of the circumstances, the court held that the conduct witnessed by the Border Patrol agents was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to justify the traffic stop.

Gun possession Illegal Alien

Second Amendment Not Written For an Illegal Alien

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Gun possession Illegal AlienThe Second Amendment to the United States Constitution provides:

…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

But who are “the people?”  Does that include everyone, even illegal aliens?  Nope, says the 5th Circuit.

In a recent case, the Appellant argued that his conviction for being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) violated the Second Amendment. The court held that “the people” referenced in the Second Amendment does not include aliens illegally in the United States. The court noted that the Constitution does not prohibit Congress from making laws that distinguish between citizens and aliens, and between lawful and illegal aliens, and as a result 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5) is constitutional under the Second Amendment.

U.S. v. Portillo-Munoz, (5th Circuit) decided June 13, 2011.  See the full opinion in United States v. Portillo-Munoz.

Read about a different case (with a different conclusion) in Breitbart’s article.