United States v. Moya

Decision Date27 July 2021
Docket NumberNo. 20-2006,20-2006
Citation5 F.4th 1168
Parties UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. Raymond MOYA, Defendant - Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

J. Lance Hopkins, Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and Kimiko L. Akiya of Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller, San Francisco, California, (Amy Sirignano with them on the briefs) for Defendant-Appellant.

James R.W. Braun, Assistant U.S. Attorney (John C. Anderson, United States Attorney, with him on the briefs), Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before PHILLIPS, EBEL, and CARSON, Circuit Judges.

PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge.

During the late hours of a Friday night in 2011, eighteen-year-old Cameron Weiss injected himself three times with heroin. By early Saturday morning, Cameron lay dead in his bed. At issue is the conviction of the heroin seller, Raymond Moya, for distribution of heroin resulting in death. The precise question underlying this conviction is whether the heroin was the but-for cause of Cameron's death.

A federal jury in the District of New Mexico found Moya guilty of distribution of heroin resulting in death. Moya argues that the district court misinstructed the jury about the "death results" element of the heroin-distribution crime and that the jury lacked sufficient evidence to convict on that element. According to Moya (and his expert witness), the heroin that Cameron injected Friday night couldn't have caused his death hours later.

Having reviewed the trial record, most notably the competing expert-witness testimony, we conclude that a rational jury could have found Moya guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We thus affirm.

BACKGROUND
I. Factual Background

Cameron began struggling with drug addiction while in high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sports-related injuries led to his abusing Percocet, and at about age sixteen, Cameron became addicted to heroin. Cameron's attendance and performance at school deteriorated, and he dropped out during his junior year. Cameron's parents did all they could to help him combat his addiction, including enrolling him in five or six different drug-rehabilitation programs. Cameron left each program resolved to kick the addiction. But he never overcame it.

At age eighteen, Cameron was convicted of disturbing the peace. Probation violations led to more arrests and more jail time. Cameron last served jail time in July 2011. While there, Cameron met Joe Dyson, also a heroin addict. Before Cameron got out of jail, Dyson gave him a note with a cellphone number for a friend, Colin Riley, who could help Cameron get heroin. According to the note, Riley could "hook [Cameron] up" with Riot or Elmo, two of Dyson's heroin dealers. R. vol. 4 at 533–34. "Riot" was Moya's nickname.

On Sunday, August 7, 2011, Cameron got out of jail. He called Riley that day about buying heroin. Riley in turn texted Moya to arrange a heroin purchase later that evening near a grocery store in Albuquerque. Because Cameron had no car, he asked his friend, Cody Rondeau, to drive him there. The two young men met Riley in the grocery-store parking lot. Cameron handed a car-stereo amplifier to Riley, who then crossed the street and traded it to Moya for about two grams of heroin. After Riley returned to the car, he, Cameron, and Rondeau injected some of the heroin.

The next day, Cameron flew to California to join his family on vacation. During the trip, his mother noticed that Cameron was exhibiting signs of drug withdrawal: extreme agitation, anxiousness, anger, and volatility. On the evening of Thursday, August 11, the family returned to Albuquerque. Once back, Cameron began using drugs again. He went to his friend Cody Teeters's apartment, where he, Teeters, and Rondeau ingested an array of drugs. They started with an aerosol spray and "anything that [they] could find in [Teeters's] medicine cabinet," but soon moved on to heroin and cocaine. Id. at 818.

On Friday night, August 12, Cameron and Dyson (Cameron's prison acquaintance) made plans to buy heroin. Dyson had no car, so he told Cameron and Rondeau that if they picked him up, he would give them some of the heroin he bought. After they picked him up, Dyson contacted Moya about buying heroin. At that point, Cameron and Rondeau both appeared sober, apparently no longer experiencing any effects from the drugs they had used with Teeters the previous night. The three drove around until they met up with Moya outside a fast-food restaurant at about 8 or 9 p.m.

While Cameron and Rondeau waited in Rondeau's car, Dyson got in Moya's car and paid him $100 for two grams of heroin. Moya had already divided the heroin into 1.8 grams for Dyson and .2 grams for Cameron and Rondeau. After Dyson returned to Rondeau's car, Rondeau drove across the street to a parking lot, and the three of them injected some of Dyson's 1.8 grams of heroin.1 After getting high, Cameron and Rondeau dropped Dyson off at his house.

Cameron and Rondeau injected heroin twice more that night. At a bowling-alley parking lot, they injected some of their .2 grams of heroin. While there, Rondeau "fell out" and collapsed to the ground. Id. at 479. Heroin users describe "falling out" as "not only the loss of consciousness for a moment but ... the beginning stages of passing away." Id. at 812 ("[Y]ou kind of just feel like the life is getting sucked out of you."). Rondeau regained consciousness after Cameron threw water on his face, a well-known method for reviving heroin users. Sometime later, between 11 p.m. and midnight, Rondeau drove to a grocery-store parking lot, where he and Cameron injected what remained of the .2 grams of heroin.

Out of heroin, Cameron and Rondeau went to Cameron's house and sat outside. Cameron decided that he wanted to see some friends, so they drove to Antonio Martinez's house. While there, Martinez noticed that Cameron "wasn't right": He wasn't his usual "energetic" self and he "just looked almost dead." Id. at 719. Cameron and Rondeau stayed for about twenty minutes, talking and smoking marijuana in the driveway. They left Martinez's house around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., and Rondeau dropped Cameron off at home sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m.

That morning, Saturday, August 13, Cameron's father was due at work at 6:00 a.m. At about 5:20 a.m., he walked by Cameron's room and heard "a gurgling sound." Id. at 773. At 7:30 a.m., Cameron's mother found him lying face up on his bed, his eyes open and foam expelled from his nose and mouth. Cameron wasn't breathing and appeared dead. Cameron's mother urgently called 911 and performed CPR until paramedics arrived. But the paramedics couldn't revive him, and at 8:35 a.m. they pronounced him dead.

Cameron's body was placed in a sealed bag and taken to the Office of the Medical Investigator, where it was kept in the cold-storage room pending an autopsy. At the time, the Office's policy was to examine bodies received on the weekend on the next business day.

After Cameron's death, his mother looked through his room multiple times. During one search, she found a syringe in the pocket of a pair of his pants, though the record doesn't say where she found the pants or when Cameron had last worn them (Cameron was wearing shorts the night that he died). About a year later—when law enforcement began collecting evidence—she provided the syringe to the DEA. Laboratory testing revealed traces of cocaine inside the syringe.

II. Procedural Background
A. Indictment and Trial

In May 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Moya on two counts: (1) distribution of heroin on August 7, 2011; and (2) distribution of heroin on August 12, 2011, resulting in Cameron's death, both in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C). The first count stems from the transaction discussed above in which Moya sold Riley heroin in exchange for the car-stereo amplifier Cameron had supplied. Moya doesn't challenge his conviction of count 1.

In May 2019, after years of discovery disputes, pretrial motions, and an interlocutory appeal (discussed in more detail below), Moya stood trial for six days. Because the trial focused on the cause of Cameron's death, the parties now emphasize the trial testimony of three experts: (1) Dr. Sam Andrews, the government's primary expert witness; (2) Dr. Steven Pike, the defense's expert; and (3) Dr. Laura Labay, the government's rebuttal expert.

1. Dr. Sam Andrews's Testimony

Dr. Andrews is a forensic pathologist who worked for New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator when Cameron died. On August 15, 2011—two days after Cameron's death—Dr. Andrews performed Cameron's autopsy. Dr. Andrews concluded that Cameron died from "[h]eroin toxicity," R. vol. 4 at 1028, a term that he generally used to describe an overdose. He explained that "toxicity" refers to "the toxic effects of the particular drug ... in question on the body resulting in death." Id. at 1022. He also testified that if Cameron hadn't used heroin in the hours before his death, he wouldn't have died, and that "there was no competing cause." Id. at 1044–45.

Preliminarily, Dr. Andrews testified about how heroin acts on the body. He explained that heroin is a central-nervous-system depressant—that is, it decreases a user's consciousness, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. And though he acknowledged that a heroin overdose can happen quickly (even while "the needle is still in their arm"), he testified that "most commonly in my practice[,]... an individual gets sleepy, they start to lose consciousness, they slip into a [coma] and then they die a slow progression." Id. at 1023. Based on that, Dr. Andrews explained that brain swelling suggests a heroin overdose because "when someone has central nervous system depression their blood pressure drops, their breathing rate drops, they are not oxygenating their blood as well," and "a brain that gets deprived of oxygen is going to swell." Id. at 1024.

During the autopsy, Dr. Andrews observed that Cameron's brain had swollen, consistent with central-nervous-system depression...

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