U.S. v. Contreras-Castro, CONTRERAS-CASTR

Citation825 F.2d 185
Decision Date18 August 1987
Docket NumberCONTRERAS-CASTR,D,No. 86-5262,86-5262
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Ezequielefendant-Appellant.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)

Bruce R. Castetter and Edward P. Allard, III, San Diego, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee.

Ezekiel E. Cortez, San Diego, Cal., for defendant-appellant.

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

Before NELSON, HALL and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

CYNTHIA HOLCOMB HALL, Circuit Judge:

Ezequiel Contreras-Castro appeals his conviction for importation of marijuana and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. He contends that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to ask the venire whether any member would be more likely to believe the testimony of a law enforcement officer, merely because of his position, than the testimony of other witnesses. We agree and reverse and remand.

I

On December 28, 1985, Ezequiel Contreras-Castro drove from Mexico to the United States, stopping for inspection at the port of entry at Otay Mesa, California. Agents found seventy-one packages of marijuana concealed in the sailboat atop his car. The agents then arrested Contreras-Castro. Shortly thereafter, DEA agent Chemes arrived to question Contreras-Castro.

On January 8, 1986, a grand jury indicted Contreras-Castro for importation of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Secs. 952, 960, 963, and possession with intent to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. Sec. 841.

Contreras-Castro submitted proposed voir dire questions for the court to ask the venire. Specifically, he requested that the court ask:

Would any of you tend to give any greater weight or credibility, no matter how slight, to the testimony of a federal agent or prosecution witness merely because they are employees of, or are testifying on behalf of the government? Would you give their testimony greater weight or credibility over that of defendant Contreras or witnesses testifying on his behalf?

The court refused to ask these questions. At the close of voir dire, Contreras-Castro requested that the court ask the panel members if they would be more likely to believe the testimony of a police officer than that of any other witness. The court again refused. The jury convicted Contreras-Castro of both counts charged in the indictment. He timely appeals.

II

This court reviews the district court's voir dire for abuse of discretion. United States v. Jones, 722 F.2d 528, 529 (9th Cir.1983).

III

Contreras-Castro contends that the district court committed reversible error by refusing to ask the venire members whether they would favor the testimony of law enforcement officers over his testimony.

In United States v. Baldwin, 607 F.2d 1295 (9th Cir.1979), this court found reversible error in the district court's failure to question prospective jurors as to whether they were acquainted with prospective witnesses and whether they would give greater or lesser weight to the testimony of a law enforcement officer merely because of the officer's position. Baldwin, 607 F.2d at 1298. This court has since held that the failure to ask only one of these questions can constitute reversible error. See United States v. Washington, 819 F.2d 221, 224-25 (9th Cir.1987) (failure to question prospective jurors as to acquaintance with government's witnesses reversible error); Darbin v. Nourse, 664 F.2d 1109, 1114-16 (9th Cir.1981) (failure to question venire members whether they would give greater weight to law enforcement officers' testimony merely because of position reversible error in section 1983 action).

Whether failure to ask the venire members if they would be unduly influenced by the testimony of law...

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19 cases
  • U.S. v. Payne
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 6, 1991
    ...the venireperson's attitude toward government agents is covered in other voir dire questions. Id.; see also United States v. Contreras-Castro, 825 F.2d 185, 187 (9th Cir.1987). In Contreras-Castro we reversed the defendant's conviction because the government's entire case rested on the test......
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    ...example, appellant relies heavily upon the Ninth Circuit's decision in United States v. Contreras-Castro, 825 F.2d 185 (9th Cir. 1987). Contreras-Castro involved some facts similar to the present case, namely the predominance of police witnesses, and the Ninth Circuit reversed the district ......
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