685 F.Supp.2d 293 (D.Puerto Rico 2010), Crim. 09-269 (FAB), United States v. Rodriguez-Rodriguez

Docket NºCriminal 09-269 (FAB).
Citation685 F.Supp.2d 293
Opinion JudgeBESOSA, District Judge.
Party NameUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. William RODRIGUEZ-RODRIGUEZ, Defendant.
AttorneyJose A. Contreras, United States Attorneys Office, District of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiff. Joseph C. Laws, Carmen Coral Rodriguez-Morales, Federal Public Defender's Office, Hato Rey, PR, for Defendant.
Case DateFebruary 19, 2010
CourtUnited States District Courts, 1st Circuit, District of Puerto Rico

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685 F.Supp.2d 293 (D.Puerto Rico 2010)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,

v.

William RODRIGUEZ-RODRIGUEZ, Defendant.

Criminal No. 09-269 (FAB).

United States District Court, D. Puerto Rico.

February 19, 2010

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Jose A. Contreras, United States Attorneys Office, District of Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, for Plaintiff.

Joseph C. Laws, Carmen Coral Rodriguez-Morales, Federal Public Defender's Office, Hato Rey, PR, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

BESOSA, District Judge.

On October 26, 2009, following four days of trial, a jury convicted William Rodriguez-Rodriguez (" Rodriguez" ) of forcibly assaulting or resisting or opposing or impeding or intimidating or interfering with an officer or employee of the United States in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 111. (Docket No. 55) Subsequently, on December 16, 2009, Rodriguez filed a motion for judgment of acquittal and a motion for a new trial. (Docket Nos. 78 & 79) On December 24, 2009, the United States filed its opposition. (Docket No. 82)

Rodriguez bases his motion for a new trial on three grounds: (1) the Court bolstered, or " vouched for", the testimony of the government's primary witness; (2) the Court erred in admitting evidence that Rodriguez was under investigation for

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fraud related to deviation from his delivery route as a postal worker; and (3) the Court erred by refusing to give Rodriguez's preferred self-defense instruction to the jury. (Docket No. 78) Rodriguez bases his motion for a judgment of acquittal based solely on sufficiency of the evidence grounds. The Court will first decide whether it engaged in any conduct that could be considered bolstering the government witness's testimony. It will next review the challenged testimony to decide what was properly admissible. Then, the Court will examine whether Rodriguez was entitled to his preferred jury instruction on self-defense. Once the Court has established the procedural integrity of the trial, it will recount the appropriate factual background and conduct a sufficiency review of the evidence properly presented to the jury. See U.S. v. Aviles-Colon, 536 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir.2008). For the following reasons, the defendants' motion for a new trial and motion for a judgment of acquittal are DENIED.

I. Legal Standards and Analysis

A. Motion for a New Trial

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 allows a court to " vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed.R.Crim.P. 33(a). Rodriguez alleges three grounds in his motion for a new trial, all of which deal with some aspect of the trial's procedural integrity.1 ( See Docket No. 78) The Court considers each of Rodriguez's grounds for a new trial separately.

1. " Vouching" Allegations

Rodriguez argues that the Court vouched for the Government's primary witness on three occasions. Specifically, Rodriguez claims that the Court made statements during the testimony of Agent Rafael Peñon (" Agent Peñon" ) that appeared to lend credibility to that testimony. (Docket No. 78 at 2-8) After reviewing the transcripts of Agent Peñon's testimony, the Court finds that no such " vouching" occurred.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has held that " [a] judge is not a mere umpire: he is ‘ the governor of the trial for the purpose of assuring its proper conduct.’ " United States v. Polito, 856 F.2d 414, 418 (1st Cir.1988) (citing Quercia v. United States, 289 U.S. 466, 53 S.Ct. 698, 77 L.Ed. 1321 (1933)). A district judge is not expected to be a " bloodless automaton" and " [c]harges of partiality should be judged not on an isolated comment or two, but on the record as a whole." Id. (citing United States v. Twomey, 806 F.2d 1136, 1140 (1st Cir.1986); United States v. Welch, 745 F.2d 614, 621 (10th Cir.1984), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1006, 105 S.Ct. 1364, 84 L.Ed.2d 384 (1985); United States v. Billups, 692 F.2d 320, 327 (4th Cir.1982), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 820, 104 S.Ct. 84, 78 L.Ed.2d 93 (1983)); see also United States v. DeCologero, 530 F.3d 36, 56 (1st Cir.2008). Although " litigants are entitled to a fair trial, ... [it need not be] a perfect or monochromatic one." Id.

Furthermore, " [a] judge has wide discretion to interject questions in order to throw light upon testimony or expedite the pace of a trial." Logue v. Dore, 103 F.3d 1040, 1045 (1st Cir.1997) (citing Deary v. City of Gloucester, 9 F.3d 191, 194-95 (1st Cir.1993); United States v. Olmstead, 832 F.2d 642, 648 (1st Cir.1987), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1009, 108 S.Ct. 1739, 100 L.Ed.2d 202 (1988)).

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First Alleged Incident of " Vouching"

Rodriguez first argues that the Court bolstered Agent Peñon's credibility by allowing a line of questioning regarding Agent Peñon's family, specifically his wife. Preceded by general background questioning regarding Agent Peñon's work history with the United States Postal Service, the alleged incident of bolstering transpired as follows:

[Questioning during direct examination by the government]

Q. Are you married?

A. Yes.

Q. How long have you been married?

A. Two years.

Q. Two or 20 you said?

A. Two years.

Q. Do you have any children?

A. Yes.

MR. GONZALEZ-BOTHWELL 2: Objection, Your Honor, relevance.

THE COURT: We want to hear about Mr. Peñon.

MR. GONZALEZ-BOTHWELL: What they're doing, Your Honor, is bolstering Mr. Peñon's credibility by use of his family, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Overruled. Overruled.

BY MR. CONTRERAS 3:

Q. Do you have any children?

A. Yes, from my prior marriage.

Q. So this is your second marriage?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you have children with your current marriage?

A. No.

Q. How many children do you have in your previous marriage?

A. One.

Q. How old is that child by the way?

A. 15 and a half.

Q. Your current wife, what does she do?

A. She's a special agent for the OIG.

Q. So you guys work together?

A. Sometimes.

Q. And just because it will be relevant later, what is her name? Not her married name. Her maiden name.

A. Special Agent Anibel Bulillera (ph).

(Docket No. 65 at 42-44) The context of this line of questioning reveals that the information gleaned related to Agent Peñon's general background. The testimony immediately prior to the questions about his family related to his age, height, and employment record with the United States Postal Service. Id. at 40-42. The testimony that follows Agent Peñon's identification of his wife as an OIG special agent does not stray any further into his family life, but transitions directly into the investigation of Rodriguez preceding the confrontation between Rodriguez and Agent Peñon. Id. at 44-46. Considering the context of the contested testimony and its brevity, the prejudicial effect caused by any alleged bolstering of Agent Peñon's credibility, if any, appears minimal.

Rodriguez argues that mentioning Agent Peñon's wife's position as an OIG special agent was a further attempt to bolster Agent Peñon's credibility. (Docket No. 78 at 3) If Agent Peñon's later testimony is examined, however, Agent Peñon's wife's status as an OIG special agent becomes

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additionally relevant. Shortly after the contested testimony, Agent Peñon states that his wife was the OIG special agent that initially received a complaint against Rodriguez, which was eventually referred to Agent Peñon for investigation. (Docket No. 65 at 45-46) Considering Agent Peñon's subsequent testimony, it is clear that Agent Peñon's testimony regarding his wife did not bolster Agent Peñon's credibility, but set the context for the subsequent narrative regarding Agent Peñon's investigation of Rodriguez.

Rodriguez also argues that the Court " emphasized the that [sic] said line of questioning was important to the Court" when the Court stated " We want to hear about Mr. Peñon." (Docket No. 78 at 3; Docket No. 65 at 43) This single comment does not reflect any bias or opinion regarding the Court's opinion as to Agent Peñon, but rather reflects the Court's effort to resolve an objection made by defendant's counsel and put the trial back on course after the resolution of said objection.

Second Alleged Incident of " Vouching"

Rodriguez argues that the Court " vouched for" Agent Peñon's testimony by referring to Agent Peñon's thirty-one years of service in various positions with the Postal Service. (Docket 78 at 4) The exchange referred to defendant by appears in the transcript as follows:

[Questioning during direct examination by the government]

Q. Now based on your training, experience, and knowledge of regulations, is a person supposed to stay within their route, a postal letter carrier?

A. Yes.

Q. Based on your knowledge of the regulations, rulings and regulations of the Postal Service, is a person allowed to go to their home during business hours?

A. No.

Q. Based on your investigation of this case, was-

MR. GONZALEZ-BOTHWELL: Objection, Your Honor. And I'm making the objection to the last two questions. It goes beyond the scope of this witness. He is not an expert in rules and regulations. He is just a Postal Inspector. He is just a Postal Inspector.

There is no foundation as to whether he knows all the rules and regulations or can give opinions about the rules and regulations as part of his 31 years in the Postal Service, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Or probably because of his 31 years in the Postal Service and nature of his duties, he knows what letter carriers should and should not do. Overruled.

(Docket No. 65 at 49-50)

First, it was defendant's counsel, not the Court, who first referenced Agent Peñon's thirty-one years of service when objecting to...

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