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Name: U.S. v. Leal-Del Carmen
Case #: 11-50094
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 09/14/2012

The government’s deportation of an illegal alien prior to appointment of defense counsel, where it knows that the alien possesses exculpatory evidence, violates a defendant’s constitutional right to present a complete defense. Appellant and several illegal aliens were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border. Four of the group were interviewed and three of them identified appellant as the leader; the fourth member, Ana Maria Garcia-Garcia, explicitly denied that appellant gave orders. Before appellant was arraigned or represented by counsel, the government deported Garcia-Garcia. Later, defense counsel made several discovery requests before the videotaped interviews were provided. At trial, the court denied appellant’s motion to introduce the exculpatory videotape or provide a missing-witness instruction to the jury that would have instructed that, because of the government action, the jury could presume that the unproduced witness would have testified unfavorably to the government. Appellant was convicted of bringing in illegal aliens but acquitted of doing so for financial gain. Reversed. Under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, a defendant is guaranteed a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. Deporting a witness with exculpatory evidence undermines this right. To evaluate whether the deportation amounts to a constitutional violation, a defendant must show that the government acted in bad faith, i.e., that the government knew the witness had exculpatory evidence. Secondly, it must demonstrate that the evidence would have been material and favorable to the defense. Here, Garcia-Garcia’s testimony was material, favorable, and not cumulative as it suggested that appellant did not give orders and was not one of the guides. The court noted that any error may have been harmless if the trial court had allowed the defense to inform the jury of Garcia-Garcia’s videotaped interview.