United States v. Martinez, 21-50358

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
PartiesUnited States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Francisco Resendiz Martinez, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket Number21-50358
Decision Date08 March 2022

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

Francisco Resendiz Martinez, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 21-50358

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 8, 2022

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas USDC No. 6:18-CR-72-2

Before Wiener, Graves, and Duncan, Circuit Judges.


A jury found Defendant-Appellant Francisco Resendiz Martinez guilty, in January 2020, of conspiracy to distribute at least 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1) & (b)(1)(A)(viii). The district court imposed a within-Guidelines sentence of 292 months of imprisonment


and five years of non-reporting supervised release. On appeal, Resendiz challenges both his conviction and his sentence. We affirm.

I. The Conviction.

Challenging his conviction, Resendiz contends that the district court erred by excluding the testimony of a proposed expert, Dr. Deborah Ohanesian. Resendiz claims that Dr. Ohanesian would have testified that it is "her opinion that [he] had a limited understanding of English and about his intellectual limitations, including limited schooling in Mexico, which prevented him from fully understanding" an arresting officer's questions. Relevant to this objection is that officer's testimony regarding the traffic stop during which Resendiz was arrested. The officer testified that he asked Resendiz "if there [were] any drugs, weapons, or large amounts of money in the vehicle," to which Resendiz replied in the negative. However, when the officer asked Resendiz "if there was anything illegal in the vehicle," Resendiz said "yes" in "a nervous voice."

"A district court has 'wide latitude' and 'broad discretion' to exclude expert testimony." United States v. Reed, 908 F.3d 102, 117 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Williams v. Manitowoc Cranes, L.L.C., 898 F.3d 607, 615 (5th Cir. 2018)). Such a court's decision to exclude expert testimony will not be disturbed unless it is "manifestly erroneous," id., which we define as "a complete disregard of the controlling law," id. (quoting Williams, 898 F.3d at 615). And, even in the event of manifest error, "we 'will not overturn a conviction based on the exclusion of evidence unless a reasonable probability exists that the error contributed to conviction.'" United States v. De Leon, 728 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Gulley, 526 F.3d 809, 819 n.2 (5th Cir. 2008)); see United States v. Okulaja, 21 F.4th 338, 344 (5th Cir. 2021).


We doubt that the district court erred in excluding Dr. Ohanesian's testimony.[1] But, even assuming that it did, any error was harmless. Dr. Ohanesian's testimony-if found credible by the jury-would have, at most, undercut the probative value of Resendiz's admission to the arresting officer that there was something illegal in the vehicle.[2] As an initial matter, that statement's probative value was tempered by Resendiz's contemporaneous statement that there were no drugs in the vehicle.

Even assuming that the jury found Resendiz's admission regarding something illegal being in the vehicle (but not his denial regarding drugs) to be probative and that the jury would not have done so had Dr. Ohanesian testified, the trial record contains ample other evidence of Resendiz's guilt. During the traffic stop, officers recovered 21.2 pounds of methamphetamine from a suitcase in the vehicle. See United States v. Gonzalez-Rodriguez, 621 F.3d 354, 360 (5th Cir. 2010) (Except when drugs are stored in a hidden compartment, "a jury may infer that a defendant has knowledge of drugs in a vehicle when the defendant exercises control over the vehicle."). Additionally, Johnny Casillas, a coconspirator, testified at length about his use of Resendiz as a drug courier. In particular, Casillas testified that he told Resendiz "upfront" that he would be transporting "drugs." Casillas also testified that, on at least one occasion, Resendiz helped him unload the drugs, which were packaged in "see-through plastic," from the truck that Resendiz


had just driven. The record also includes intercepted text messages and phone calls that support Casillas's testimony. There is no reasonable probability that the jury would have acquitted Resendiz but for the alleged error. See De Leon, 728 F.3d at 505-06.

II. The Sentence.

Resendiz contends that the district court erred by denying his request for a safety valve adjustment to his...

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