United States v. Rios

Decision Date21 July 2016
Docket NumberNos. 14-2495/2512,s. 14-2495/2512
Citation830 F.3d 403
PartiesUnited States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Antonio Rios (14-2495); David Casillas (14-2512), Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

ARGUED: Scott Graham, Scott Graham PLLC, Portage, Michigan, for Appellant in 14-2495. Mary Chartier, Alane & Chartier, P.L.C., Lansing, Michigan, for Appellant in 14-2512. Sally J. Berens, United States Attorney' s Office, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Scott Graham, Scott Graham PLLC, Portage, Michigan, for Appellant in 14-2495. Mary Chartier, Alane & Chartier, P.L.C., Lansing, Michigan, for Appellant in 14-2512. Sally J. Berens, Russell A. Kavalhuna, United States Attorney's Office, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellee.

Before: SUHRHEINRICH and MOORE, Circuit Judges; LUDINGTON, District Judge.*

KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Antonio Rios and David Casillas were charged along with twenty-nine co-defendants in a sprawling racketeering indictment charging that they were involved in the criminal activities of the Holland, Michigan chapter of the organization known as the Latin Kings. Rios and Casillas were the only ones to go to trial—the others pleaded guilty and were sentenced, and we recently resolved the appeals of nine co-defendants who challenged the sentences they received. See United States v. Penaloza , Nos. 14-1360, 648 Fed.Appx. 508, 2016 WL 2755180 (6th Cir. May 12, 2016). The case against Rios and Casillas focused on a racketeering-conspiracy charge (“Count One”) under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq. , which alleged that the Holland Latin Kings was a racketeering enterprise that “was and is overseen by, has always had connections to, and received directions from, the Chicago Heights, Illinois (21st and Wenworth) Latin Kings.” R. 480 (Fourth Superseding Indictment at 5) (Page ID #2142). Count One alleged the commission of 129 overt acts in furtherance of the twenty-year-long racketeering conspiracy, and also contained eleven special sentencing allegations, charging various defendants with conspiring to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine between 1993 and 2013, and the commission of ten assaults with the intent to commit murder. Id. at 15–37 (Page ID #2152–74). Rios and Casillas were each charged in Count One and its special sentencing allegation regarding the distribution of cocaine, and Rios was additionally charged with three of the assaults with the intent to commit murder. See id. at 3, 33–36 (Page ID #2140, 2170–73). Count Fourteen—with which Rios and Casillas were charged—alleged a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine between 2006 and 2012. See id. at 54–55 (Page ID #2191–92). Count Fifteen—with which Rios was charged, but Casillas was not—alleged a conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute one-hundred kilograms or more of marijuana between 2009 and 2012. See id. at 56 (Page ID #2193).

Rios and Casillas proceeded to trial on June 2, 2014. The evidence presented was extensive, and we review many facets of it in detail in connection with our assessment of the various legal arguments presented by Rios and Casillas. In summary, three initial witnesses painted a picture of the national Latin Kings organization and how the Holland Latin Kings fit into its structure and practices. Much of the rest of the trial consisted of testimony, largely from cooperating co-defendants, corroborating aspects of the testimony regarding the Holland Latin Kings, and setting forth details about a number of specific criminal acts that the government claimed had been committed in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy. On June 13, 2014, the jury found Rios and Casillas guilty of Count One, the RICO conspiracy, and Count Fourteen, the cocaine conspiracy. See R. 1197 (Verdict Form at 1–3) (Page ID #13777–79). The jury also found Rios and Casillas responsible for the Count One special sentencing allegation related to the distribution of five kilograms or more of cocaine between 1993 and 2013. See id. at 1–2 (Page ID #13777–78). The jury acquitted Rios of Count Fifteen, the marijuana-distribution conspiracy, as well as the special sentencing allegations regarding assault with the intent to commit murder. See id. at 1–3 (Page ID #13777–79).

Rios was later sentenced to concurrent terms of 240 months on Count One and 300 months on Count Fourteen, with 61 months of credit “for gang-related discharged terms of imprisonment,” R. 1396 (Rios Judgment at 2) (Page ID #20861), and Casillas was sentenced to concurrent terms of 200 months on Count One and 360 months on Count Fourteen, with 148 months of credit “for gang-related discharged terms of imprisonment,” R. 1397 (Casillas Judgment at 2) (Page ID #20867). On appeal, they each raise issue with many aspects of the trial, as well as the sentences they received. For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM Rios's conviction and sentence, and AFFIRM Casillas's conviction and sentence.

I. ANALYSIS—TRIAL ISSUES
A. Appropriateness of Expert Testimony

The government proposed pretrial that it would utilize two expert witnesses. Keith Bevacqui would serve as an expert “regarding the Latin Kings national organization,” R. 912 (Gov't's Suppl. Response to Expert Mot. at 3) (Page ID #6840), and Detective Kristopher Haglund—who had also served as a lead investigator in this case—would provide expert testimony regarding “the unique attributes of the Holland chapter of the Latin Kings” and “as to who, in his opinion, is a member of the Holland Latin Kings,” R. 895 (Gov't's Initial Response to Expert Mot. at 2) (Page ID #6442). The defendants sought to exclude both witnesses, arguing that Bevacqui could not “reliably apply his principles and methods to the facts of this case,” R. 954 (Defs.' Suppl. Expert Mot. at 2) (Page ID #8760), while Haglund lacked a reliable methodology, would be testifying to matters that would be covered by fact witnesses, and would confuse the jury by virtue of his dual role as both fact and expert witness, R. 845 (Defs.' Expert Mot.) (Page ID #5452–66). The district court denied both requests. See R. 1064 (April 18, 2014 Opinion) (Page ID #11477–87). Both witnesses testified as experts at trial, with Bevacqui focusing on the structure, norms, and operations of the Almighty Latin King Nation, and Haglund linking that testimony to similar practices by the Holland Latin Kings. Haglund also testified to the Holland Latin Kings's drug-trafficking activities, and its use of violence to protect those activities, its members, and its territory.

On appeal, Rios and Casillas raise a number of arguments regarding this testimony. Both argue that Bevacqui's testimony was irrelevant and unreliable because Bevacqui knew nothing about the Holland Latin Kings. Rios also contests Haglund's testimony, arguing that it served only to impart “his opinion that the Defendants who went to trial were guilty” and that he “mixed fact and expert testimony together.” Rios Appellant Br. at 29–30. Relatedly, Rios and Casillas rely extensively on a portion of the Second Circuit's decision in United States v. Mejia , 545 F.3d 179 (2d Cir. 2008), that discussed the proper scope of gang-expert testimony under Rule 702. Before analyzing these interrelated arguments, we set forth the law regarding the use of expert witnesses on gangs and discuss the many pitfalls that attend to the use of such witnesses.

1. Law Governing the Use of Gang-Expert Witnesses.

Like all experts, the role of gang-expert witnesses is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Although Rule 702 commonly applies to scientific expert testimony, it applies equally to witnesses whose expertise stems from other types of specialized knowledge, granting the district court “considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable,” provided that the gatekeeping mandate of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. , 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), is followed “to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony,” Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael , 526 U.S. 137, 152, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999). The Rule 702 analysis proceeds in three stages: “First, the witness must be qualified by ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.’ Second, the testimony must be relevant, meaning that it ‘will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.’ Third, the testimony must be reliable.” In re Scrap Metal Antitrust Litig. , 527 F.3d 517, 529 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 702 ), cert. denied , 556 U.S. 1152, 129 S.Ct. 1673, 173 L.Ed.2d 1037 (2009). We review for abuse of discretion the district court's determination to admit or exclude expert testimony.” Id. at 528.

To determine whether an expert's testimony will be relevant, we look to “whether the untrained layman would be qualified to determine intelligently and to the best possible degree the particular issue without enlightenment from those having a specialized understanding of the subject involved in the dispute.” Fed. R. Evid. 702, Adv. Comm. Notes (quoting Mason Ladd, Expert Testimony , 5 Vand. L. Rev. 414, 418 (1952)). Accordingly, [a] district court may commit manifest...

To continue reading

Request your trial
152 cases
  • State v. Tomlinson
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • September 8, 2021
    ...inadmissible hearsay statement. See, e.g., United States v. Garcia , supra, 793 F.3d at 1212–13 ; see also United States v. Rios , 830 F.3d 403, 417–18 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. denied sub nom. Casillas v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 137 S. Ct. 1120, 197 L. Ed. 2d 220 (2017), and cert. deni......
  • United States v. Darden, 3:17-cr-00124
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee
    • November 2, 2018
    ...that the defendant ‘agreed to commit two predicate acts himself, or even that any overt acts have been committed.’ " United States v. Rios, 830 F.3d 403, 424 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Fowler, 535 F.3d 408, 420–21 (6th Cir. 2008) ). " ‘To the contrary, it merely requires proo......
  • United States v. Sandoval
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • July 7, 2021
    ...and training to speak to the operation, symbols, jargon, and internal structure of criminal organizations"); United States v. Rios, 830 F.3d 403, 413-16 (6th Cir. 2016) (explaining that law enforcement experts in organized crime cases "may properly give expert testimony 'on the structure, t......
  • United States v. Robinson
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • September 29, 2017
    ...Rees's factual testimony from his opinion testimony. Such a failure can constitute error in some cases. See United States v. Rios , 830 F.3d 403, 416 (6th Cir. 2016) ; United States v. Lopez-Medina , 461 F.3d 724, 744 (6th Cir. 2006). However, this last argument also fails. Following Sixth ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • Search and seizure of electronic devices
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Suppressing Criminal Evidence Fourth amendment searches and seizures
    • April 1, 2022
    ...is required for real-time cell phone tracking. See United States v. Skinner , 690 F.3d 772 (6th Cir, 2012), and United States v. Rios , 830 F.3d 403, 429 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. den . 138 S. Ct. 2701(2018). In United States v. Caraballo , 831 F.3d 95 (2nd Cir. 2016), the court declined to re......
  • Search and seizure of electronic devices
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2020 Contents
    • July 31, 2020
    ...is required for real-time cell phone tracking. See United States v. Skinner , 690 F.3d 772 (6th Cir, 2012), and United States v. Rios , 830 F.3d 403, 429 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. den . 138 S. Ct. 2701(2018). In United States v. Caraballo , 831 F.3d 95 (2nd Cir. 2016), the court declined to re......
  • Search and Seizure of Electronic Devices
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Archive Suppressing Criminal Evidence - 2017 Contents
    • August 4, 2017
    ...a warrant is required for real time cell phone tracking. In United States v. 8-15 SEARCH AND SEIZURE OF ELECTRONIC DEVICES §8:39 Rios , 830 F.3d 403, 429 (6th Cir. 2016), cert. petition pending , the court held it was not. However, the Florida Supreme court reached the opposite result in Tr......
  • Review Proceedings
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
    • August 1, 2022
    ...doubt instructions in discrete part of instructions not structural error because correct standard was stated elsewhere); U.S. v. Rios, 830 F.3d 403, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (minor variations in jury instructions regarding reasonable doubt standard are not problematic); U.S. v. Hansen, 262 F.3d ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT