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United States of America v. Miroslaw Laguna

October 4, 2011

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MIROSLAW LAGUNA DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The Government indicted Miroslaw Laguna, a Polish national, of one count of intentionally interfering with a final deportation order between April 21, 2010 and April 29, 2010 in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1253. Specifically, at trial the Government asserted that during that eight day stretch, Laguna refused to pick up his Polish passport, which the Polish authorities require before Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") agents could deport him back to Poland. After a brief trial on April 12, 2011, a jury convicted him. Laguna filed a motion for a new trial under Rule 33, asserting that the Court improperly restricted the defenses' questioning regarding interactions between Laguna and ICE agents before April 2010 and that the Court erred by not permitting the defense to argue that those interactions impacted his state of mind in April 2010. Laguna also brought a motion for acquittal notwithstanding the verdict, asserting that the Government did not prove Laguna ever intentionally took an action to hamper his departure. For the below reasons, Laguna's motions are denied.

I. STANDARDS

A. Motion for Judgment of Acquittal

A motion for judgment of acquittal under Rule 29 challenges the sufficiency of the evidence against a defendant. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29 (requiring the Court to "enter a judgment of acquittal of any offense for which the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction"). In challenging the sufficiency of the evidence, Laguna "bears a heavy, indeed, nearly insurmountable, burden." United States v. Warren, 593 F.3d 540, 546 (7th Cir. 2010). Such a motion should be denied if, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Hicks, 368 F.3d 801, 804 (7th Cir. 2004); see also United States v. Curtis, 324 F.3d 501, 505 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing United States v. Menting, 166 F.3d 923, 928 (7th Cir. 1999) and finding a conviction entered after trial by jury should not be overturned unless "the record is devoid of evidence from which a reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.")

B. Motion for New Trial

A motion for a new trial under Rule 33(a) should be granted only if required "by the interest of justice." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). Such motions should be granted sparingly and are only appropriate if "substantial rights of the defendant have been jeopardized by errors or omissions during trial." United States v. Kuzniar, 881 F.2d 466, 470 (7th Cir. 1989). A defendant is entitled to a new trial only if there is a reasonable possibility that a trial error had a prejudicial effect upon the jury's verdict. See United States v. Berry, 92 F.3d 597, 600 (7th Cir. 1996).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Sufficiency of Evidence

To prove the Laguna intentionally interfered with a final removal order in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1253, the Government was required to show : (1) the defendant was not a citizen or national of the United States; (2) an immigration court entered a final order of removal against defendant pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(ii) and (iii), which was outstanding; and (3) Laguna intentionally took action designed to prevent and hamper his departure pursuant to the outstanding deportation order. See 8 U.S.C. § 1253; United States v. Peynado, 385 Fed. Appx. 97, 101 (3d Cir. 2010); United States v. Mandefro, 122 Fed. Appx. 322, 323 (9th Cir. 2005). Laguna stipulated to the first two elements; only his intent was at issue during the trial. (Tr. 359.) Laguna also stipulated that Polish law required Laguna to have a Polish passport to enter Poland as part of his deportation, and that Laguna had to apply in person for the passport at a Polish consulate and pick it up there, also in person. (Tr. 338.)

At trial the Government called only two witnesses. The first was Geoffrey Peeple, the ICE agent in charge of Laguna's deportation. Agent Peeple testified that he explained to Laguna that he had to apply for a Polish passport, and that Laguna applied for that passport at the Polish consulate. (Tr. 262-63.) The receipt for the passport application indicated it would be ready for pickup at the consulate on April 21, 2010. (Tr. 264.) On April 21, 2010, Laguna appeared at the ICE offices as instructed so that an ICE agent could accompany him to the consulate to get the passport. (Tr. 286.) At that point, Agent Peeple testified, Laguna refused to go the consulate to get his passport. (Id.) After Laguna refused two requests from Agent Peeple to go to the consulate, the agent served an I-229 form on Laguna, which explains the consequences if an alien fails to get the travel documents necessary for his deportation. (Tr. 286-87, 290.) Agent Peeple read the entire form to Laguna and Laguna signed it. (Tr. 291-92.) After going over the I-229, Agent Peeple again asked Laguna if he would go to the consulate to get his passport. (Tr. 292.) Again, Laguna refused, and Agent Peeple placed him in custody. (Id.) Next, Nicqualyn Graves, an employee of an ICE subcontractor, testified. She stated that she visited Laguna at home in February 2010, and explained to him that he needed to get a Polish passport. (Tr. 341-43.) Laguna told her that he was not planning to get a passport. (Tr. 343.) In a subsequent visit to Laguna's home, Graves and Laguna again discussed the passport requirement, and Laguna stated that he did not want to leave his family in the United States. (Tr. 344.) At another meeting with Graves, Laguna stated that he would not return to Poland, even if it meant going to jail in the United States. (Tr. 347.)

Laguna clearly knew that he needed to get the passport to effectuate his deportation, and that his decision not to get it would have consequences, even prison time. Still, he refused to pick up his passport. From this testimony, a rational jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Laguna intended to hamper his deportation back to Poland. Laguna is not entitled to an acquittal notwithstanding the verdict.

B. New Trial

According to Laguna, the Court erred in two ways: (1) the Court precluded the defense from asking about the details of Laguna's interactions with ICE and its subcontractors between June 2004 and April 2010, and (2) the Court prevented the defense from arguing that Laguna's interactions with ICE and its vendors prior to April 21, 2010 negated Laguna's intent to interfere with his removal. The Court carefully considered the defenses arguments at trial as the evidence came out, and ruled that the defense could establish that Laguna did not intend to hamper his removal because he did not know what steps he needed to take to assist in the deportation. (Tr. 259.) The Court precluded any argument, however, that Laguna did not intend to hamper his removal because of the ...


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