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Name: U.S. v. Liera-Morales
Case #: 12-10548
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/21/2014

Agent’s testimony concerning mother’s description of her phone conversation with son’s captors did not violate confrontation clause because the call was made primarily to address an ongoing emergency and the statements were nontestimonial. Aguilar was the victim of a kidnap for ransom. Defendant was part of a human trafficking ring that contacted Aguilar’s mother, Sonia Avila, to demand payment for her son’s release. Avila spoke with the traffickers on the telephone to arrange for her son’s return, and then recounted that conversation to a government agent. At defendant’s jury trial for the kidnap for ransom, the court admitted the agent’s testimony regarding Avila’s description of the call. On appeal, defendant argued that the unidentified trafficker’s statements to Avila were testimonial and admitted in violation of the confrontation clause. Held: Affirmed. The appellate court found that in light of the ongoing hostage situation and risk of harm to Aguilar, the statements fell squarely in the emergency category of nontestimonal statements contemplated by Davis v. Washington (2006) 547 U.S. 813 and its progeny. The primary purpose of the call was to respond to the captors’ threats and ensure Aguilar’s safe return. The statements during the call lacked any indicia of formality, as they occurred in an informal, high-stress environment.