982 F.2d 1297 (9th Cir. 1992), 91-50652, United States v. Puerta

Docket Nº:91-50652.
Citation:982 F.2d 1297
Party Name:UNITED STATES of AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Antonio Medina PUERTA, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:December 22, 1992
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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982 F.2d 1297 (9th Cir. 1992)

UNITED STATES of AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Antonio Medina PUERTA, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 91-50652.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 22, 1992

Argued and Submitted July 9, 1992.

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Joseph T. Vodnoy and Joseph F. Walsh, Los Angeles, CA, for defendant-appellant.

Russell Petti, Asst. U.S. Atty., Los Angeles, CA, for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before: FLETCHER, O'SCANNLAIN, and KLEINFELD, Circuit Judges.

FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:

Antonio Medina Puerta appeals his conviction for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1425 (unlawful procurement of citizenship). We reverse.

I. Facts

Puerta was born in Almeria, Spain on January 20, 1956. He entered the United States on a student visa in 1981 and was admitted as a permanent resident in 1984. On February 26, 1990, he filed an application

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for naturalization. Question 5 asked him to list "[a]ny other names you have used (including maiden)." Puerta left this space blank. Questions 27 and 28 asked him to list any absences from the United States (for less or more than six months, respectively) since the time he entered for permanent residence. He wrote "None" in response to both questions.

On June 4, 1990, Puerta was interviewed by Immigration Examiner Robert Johnson. At trial, Johnson testified that he had no recollection of Puerta's interview. However, Johnson explained that his standard practice was to require every applicant to swear that the statements made on the application were true, and to review orally with the applicant the answer to each question. Johnson further explained that the slash marks on Puerta's application were his, undoubtedly made during his interview with Puerta. The slashes, Johnson said, indicated that Puerta orally answered questions 5, 27, and 28 the same way as he had done in writing: he had not used any other names and had never left the United States after entry. Puerta was naturalized shortly after his interview.

On February 7, 1991, several months after his naturalization, Puerta attempted a two-part transaction at the La Canada branch of the Bank of America. First, he presented for deposit into his account a $900 check payable to Anthony Port, drawn on a Security Pacific Bank account in the name Anthony Simon. Second, he tried to cash a $750 check drawn on his Bank of America account. The bank teller's computer flashed a warning that read "Fraudulent account. Call local police." A phone call established that the Security Pacific account had been closed for at least six months. Also, Bank of America's records showed that Puerta's account with it was placed "on hold," in part because the account was new, and in part because one of the checks used to open the account (a $35,000 check written by Puerta on a Home Federal account) had been returned for insufficient funds. Branch manager Brenda Santos called the police and explained the situation to them when they arrived.

Sergeant Roger Kelley of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department questioned Puerta in the bank's lounge. Puerta identified himself as Anthony Port, and presented a California driver's license in that name. Kelley noticed that Puerta's wallet appeared to contain other driver's licenses. Puerta consented to showing them. They were a Massachusetts driver's license in the name Anthony Port, a second Massachusetts driver's license in the name Anthony Simon, and an international driver's license issued in Spain in the name Anthony Port Martin. The birth dates on the various licenses did not match. Puerta had no plausible explanation for the multiple licenses and behaved nervously while being questioned. Kelley placed Puerta under arrest for attempting to defraud the bank in violation of California law. A search incident to the arrest revealed another Massachusetts driver's license in the name Medina Puerta, and a Spanish passport in the name Antonio Simon Palmer. The passport contained a United States non-immigrant visa obtained in Madrid, Spain on August 16, 1989, which was used to enter the United States on September 5, 1989. All pieces of identification were dated prior to February 26, 1990, the date Puerta filed his application for naturalization.

On March 5, 1991, a grand jury indicted Puerta on one count each of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1425 (unlawful procurement of citizenship) and 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a) (use of a false non-immigrant visa). A two-day bench trial began on May 9, 1991. By agreement of the parties, the district court heard testimony with regard to Puerta's motion to suppress evidence simultaneously with the trial testimony. The district court denied the motion to suppress in an oral ruling which concluded that there was probable cause to arrest Puerta. The court then convicted Puerta on Count One, finding that he had testified falsely when questioned by the immigration examiner. The district court acquitted Puerta of Count Two.

On August 12, 1991, Puerta was sentenced under the Guidelines to two months in prison (to be followed by two years of

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supervised release), and was fined $2,000. Puerta's certificate of naturalization was voided pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1451(f), which requires this step upon a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1425. Puerta now appeals.

II. Discussion

  1. Motion to Suppress

    Puerta moved to suppress the various forms of identification found on his person at the Bank of America. The items were discovered and seized in the course of a warrantless search. However, a warrant is not necessary where the defendant consents to the search, Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 1323, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983), or where the search is conducted incident to a lawful arrest, New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, 457, 101 S.Ct. 2860, 2862, 69 L.Ed.2d 768 (1981). The district court's findings of fact are reviewed for clear error, but the legal conclusion that the underlying facts provide a basis for probable cause to arrest is reviewed de novo. United States v. Linn, 880 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir.1989).

    The district court found the testimony of bank manager Santos and Sergeant Kelley credible. It also found, based on Kelley's testimony, that before Puerta was arrested, he consented to show Kelley the California driver's license, the first two Massachusetts licenses, and the international driver's license. Whether consent is given voluntarily is a question of fact. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 227, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2047-48, 36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973). The district court's finding of voluntary consent was not clearly erroneous.

    The third Massachusetts driver's license and the Spanish passport were discovered in the search incident to Puerta's arrest. They may be admitted only if the arrest was supported by probable cause. "The test for probable cause is whether facts and circumstances within the officers' knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, to believe, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is committing or is about to commit an offense." United States v. Thomas, 835 F.2d 219, 222 (9th Cir.1987) (internal punctuation and citations omitted), cert. denied, 486 U.S. 1010, 108 S.Ct. 1741, 100 L.Ed.2d 204 (1988).

    In light of the information provided by Santos, Puerta's many conflicting forms of identification, and Puerta's lack of any plausible explanation, Kelley could reasonably believe that Puerta was attempting to defraud the bank. Puerta objects that Kelley did not have any basis to believe that Puerta had intent to defraud, one of the elements of Cal.Penal Code § 476a. We disagree. It is reasonable to infer intent to defraud when a person attempts to withdraw cash from a newly opened bank account against two large bad checks written by him under different names on other accounts. The district court properly denied the motion to suppress. 1

  2. Sufficiency of the Evidence

    We must affirm the conviction if, "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Calabrese, 825 F.2d 1342, 1348 (9th Cir.1987).

    Puerta was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1425(a), which provides: "Whoever knowingly procures or attempts to procure, contrary to law, the naturalization of any person ... [s]hall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both." The statute does not define the phrase "contrary to law." Presumably the "law" referred to is the

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    law governing naturalization, 8 U.S.C., ch. 12, subchapter III. Puerta was prosecuted for false statements he made on his naturalization application and to an immigration examiner. 2 No reported cases discuss whether § 1425(a) requires that false statements made to procure naturalization be material in order to be "contrary to law." We note, however, that 8 U.S.C. § 1451(a) permits denaturalization if citizenship was "procured by concealment of a material fact or by willful misrepresentation" (emphasis added). Further, the government agrees with Puerta that § 1425(a) implies a materiality requirement similar to the one used in the denaturalization context. This position finds support in Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 108 S.Ct. 1537, 99 L.Ed.2d 839 (1988), the leading denaturalization case: "While we have before us here a statute revoking citizenship rather than imposing criminal fine or imprisonment, neither the evident objective sought to be achieved by the materiality requirement, nor the gravity of the consequences that follow from its being met, is so different as to justify adoption of a different standard." Id. at 770, 108 S.Ct. at 1546. We therefore look to the standards governing materiality in the denaturalization context as a guide to...

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