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United States v. Hernandez-Rivas

January 23, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JUAN HERNANDEZ-RIVAS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 05 CR 73-Rudy Lozano, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED OCTOBER 23, 2007

Before BAUER, CUDAHY, and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

On May 10, 2005, around 10:00 a.m., Trooper Jason Carmin of the Indiana State Police was traveling eastbound in the left lane of the Indiana Toll Road. Approximately 200 or 300 feet ahead of him in the right lane, he saw a full-sized white van with California license plates and tinted windows. He also saw another vehicle in the right lane behind the van, as well as other vehicles traveling in front of the van. Trooper Carmin watched the van cross over the center line about one foot into the left lane two times within one mile, without using its turn signal. Believing the driver of the van to be intoxicated and a possible danger to other vehicles on the road, Trooper Carmin pulled the van over. He approached the vehicle and asked the driver for his license. The driver appeared nervous; his hands were shaking and he would not make eye contact. Trooper Carmin told the driver to exit the vehicle and proceeded to ask the driver some questions.

The driver told Trooper Carmin that he was traveling from California to New Jersey, and that he did not know the name of the owner of the van. While the driver stood at the back of the van, Trooper Carmin approached the passenger side. Hernandez-Rivas was sitting in the front seat. The trooper asked Hernandez-Rivas who owned the van. Hernandez-Rivas told him that the van was a rental, but could not produce any rental agreement. When Trooper Carmin asked the other eleven passengers if anyone had proper documentation to be in the United States legally, no one responded. Trooper Carmin noticed that the passengers were wearing several layers of clothes, and that there was trash scattered on the floor of the van.

The trooper contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") agents because he believed he was dealing with a human trafficking case. He also issued the driver a written warning for unsafe lane movement. Hernandez-Rivas and the other occupants of the van were transported to a nearby police station in Chesterton, Indiana, where ICE Special Agents Rodolfo Medellin and Karel Matyska conducted interviews of Hernandez-Rivas, the driver, and the other occupants of the van. Hernandez-Rivas was carrying a California Identification Card, a Mexican Identification Card, and $2,599.85 in United States currency. During the interview, Hernandez-Rivas confessed that on May 10, 2005, he was transporting fifteen illegal aliens from California to New Jersey, and that for his services, he would receive $3500 from a man named Abraham. He also said that before the van was pulled over by Trooper Carmin, he dropped off four passengers in the Chicago area, collecting $500 to $650 from relatives that were waiting to pick up the passengers. He admitted that he made three previous trips in the month of May, with fifteen to sixteen passengers in the van on each trip. The agents also learned that Hernandez-Rivas had been previously removed from the United States and had reentered the country illegally.

On May 18, 2005, Hernandez-Rivas was indicted for conspiring to transport illegal aliens for commercial or private gain, transporting illegal aliens for commercial or private gain, and illegal re-entry into the United States after being deported. On July 22, 2005, an amended plea agreement was filed with the court, where Hernandez-Rivas agreed to plead guilty to the first two charges in exchange for the government's dismissal of the illegal re-entry charge.

A plea hearing for Hernandez-Rivas was held on August 9, 2005.*fn1 Initially, the district court judge told Hernandez-Rivas that "[i]f you can't hear the interpreter, if the electronic equipment doesn't work, or for some reason you can't hear [the interpreter] tell me and I'll have her repeat the interpretation or we'll have to fix the equipment. Do you understand?" Hernandez-Rivas stated that he did. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11, the judge engaged Hernandez-Rivas in a colloquy to determine whether, inter alia, he understood the nature of the charges against him, what the possible penalties were, and whether he was coerced or threatened by anyone to plead guilty. Hernandez-Rivas's responses satisfied the judge, and thereafter, pursuant to Rule 11(b)(3), he attempted to elicit a factual basis for the guilty plea from Hernandez-Rivas. The judge first asked him why he was guilty, and Hernandez-Rivas explained that a man told him to transport individuals from Los Angeles to New Jersey, in exchange for $1000. The following exchange then took place between the district court judge and Hernandez-Rivas:

Q: Did you ask [the man] any questions of who you were going to transport?

A: No, I never asked him.

Q: Did you know anything about the people you were going to transport?

A: No, I didn't know that either.

Q: Were you ever told anything about the people you were going to be transporting?

A: No, that was never told to me.

Q: Would you have to deduct anything [from the payment of $1000] for expenses? Was that a ...


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