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United States v. Ochoa-Beltran

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 25, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARDO OCHOA-BELTRAN, MIGUEL LARA-LEON, ANGELICA NAOMI GUZMAN-CORDOBA, JOEL ALVARDO-SANTIAGO Defendants.

          ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS IN LIMINE FILING NOS. 394, 397, 399, 408, 424 AND 428

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE United States District Court

          This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions in Limine. Defendants Angelica Guzman-Cordoba (“Guzman-Cordoba”), Miguel Lara-Leon (“Lara-Leon”), Ricardo Ochoa-Beltran (“Ochoa-Beltran”), and Joel Alvarado-Santiago (“Alvarado-Santiago”), have each filed a motion seeking to limit any evidence that would reveal they are improperly in the United States. (respectively, Filing No. 394; Filing No. 397; Filing No. 399; and Filing No. 408). In addition, Lara-Leon and Ochoa-Beltran have filed Motions in Limine (respectively, Filing No. 424 and Filing No. 428), seeking to prevent the Government from presenting evidence and argument regarding a possible “hit” on the life of an associate for non-payment of drugs. For the reasons stated below, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court excludes evidence on a motion in limine only if the evidence clearly is not admissible for any purpose. See Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Unless evidence meets this exacting standard, evidentiary rulings must be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy, and prejudice may be resolved in context. Id. at 1400-01. Moreover, denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion is admissible; rather, it only means that, at the pretrial stage, the court is unable to determine whether the evidence should be excluded. Id. at 1401.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Second Superseding Indictment charges Ochoa-Beltran, Lara-Leon, and Guzman-Cordoba with various drug trafficking crimes. Specifically, they are charged with conspiring with one another and others to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. The same instrument charges Alvarado-Santiago with conspiring with Ochoa-Beltran, Lara-Leon, and others to launder the proceeds of the drug trafficking organization. In their first set of Motions in Limine, the Defendants ask the Court to exclude any evidence and argument regarding their illegal status in the United States. In the second set of Motions Ochoa-Beltran and Lara-Leon seek to suppress any evidence regarding a “hit”.

         A. Motion in limine regarding Defendants' immigration status

         During post-arrest statements, the Defendants were asked about their citizenship status as part of the routine booking process. Ochoa-Beltran, Lara-Leon, Guzman-Cordoba, and Alvarado-Santiago are all present in the United States illegally. During the investigation of the two charged conspiracies, Guzman-Cordoba and others were stopped in a vehicle by Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) agents and officers who found approximately $131, 421.00 cash in the vehicle and/or on the persons of the occupants. (Filing No. 237 at 4.) HSI agents and officers took photographs of the identification cards and/or credit and debit cards possessed by the stopped individuals which appeared to have been issued by foreign countries. On July 17, 2017, the date of the arrests of Ochoa-Beltran, Lara-Leon, and Guzman-Cordoba by the Drug Enforcement Administration, law enforcement found and photographed numerous identification cards which also appeared to have been issued by foreign countries.

         Each Defendant has filed a motion in limine asking the Court to exclude any evidence and argument that Defendants are in the United States without proper authority. (See Filing No. 394, Filing No. 397, Filing No. 399 and Filing No. 408.) Defendants each argue that evidence of their illegal status is not relevant to the charges filed. They seek exclusion of this evidence under Federal Rules of Evidence 401. They argue that this evidence is irrelevant to the issue of each Defendant's knowledge and intent to commit the charged offenses. If deemed relevant, the Defendants argue that any probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         Relevant evidence is evidence which has the tendency to make a fact of consequence more or less likely. Fed.R.Evid. 401. Where the probative value of relevant evidence is “substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice”, it may be excluded. Fed.R.Evid. 401. However, evidence is unfairly prejudicial only if it will induce the jury to decide the case on an improper basis, rather than on the evidence presented. United States v. Pulido, 69 F.3d 192, 201 (7th Cir. 1995).

         The Government agrees that the Defendants' citizenship status is not material to the charges being presented to the jury and responds that it does not intend to offer evidence of the Defendants' illegal or unlawful immigration status. (Filing No. 422.) However, the Government does intend to offer evidence of the Defendants' identification cards seized and/or photographs of the cards that were seized at various times during the investigation, and which appeared to have been issued by foreign countries.

         The Court grants the Defendants' Motions in Limine, (Filing No. 394; Filing No. 397; Filing No. 399; Filing No. 408), noting that evidence of their illegal status is not relevant and such evidence is highly prejudicial. The Court will allow the Government to offer the identification cards which appear to be issued by foreign countries. These cards are relevant and present no prejudice as they do not give any indication of whether the bearer was or was not present lawfully in the United States.

         B. Motion in Limine “regarding a possible ‘hit' on or about July 17, 2017”

         The Government alleges that Ochoa-Beltran, Lara-Leon and other co-conspirators possessed firearms to protect themselves, their drugs, and their drug proceeds and that members of the drug trafficking organization used and threatened violence in the course of the conspiracy. In July 2017, law enforcement obtained what they believed to be credible evidence that Ochoa-Beltran had put a “hit” on the life of one of his ...


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