Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Convictions, Life Sentence, Affirmed in MS-13 Prosecution

US v. Palacios: Palacios was a member of MS-13 and was involved in planning the murder of a friend of the gang who was "fraternizing with rival gang members."  As a result, he was charged with (among other things) conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, and murder resulting from that use of a firearm.  He was convicted on those charges after a jury trial and sentenced to life in prison, plus a consecutive term of 240 months.

On appeal, Palacios raised several arguments challenging his convictions, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected.  First, Palacios argued that the testimony of a police officer as an expert witness on MS-13 violated his right to confront witnesses against him.  Relying on prior precedent (involving the same officer, no less) the court held that the testimony did not run afoul of the Confrontation Clause, even if it was based on interviews that would have constituted testimonial statements subject to the Clause under Crawford.  Second, the court rejected Palacios's argument that the Government introduced prior bad act evidence without proper notice under FRE 404(b), concluding that the evidence was not actually governed by FRE 404(b) because it involved the acts charged in the indictment itself, not acts committed beforehand.  The court also concluded that no other authority (including a pretrial discovery agreement between the parties) compelled its disclosure before trial.  Third, Palacios argued that the district court erred by admitting the testimony of his cellmate without prior notice from the Government.  The court disagreed, holding that the disclosure requirement of Rule 16(a)(1)(A) applies only to statements made in response to state interrogation and did not include the cellmate (even if he had already signed a plea agreement and was looking to cooperate).  Finally, the court rejected Palacios's arguments that there was insufficient evidence to sustain his convictions, particularly as to whether MS-13 was an "enterprise" and the murder in aid of racketeering conviction.

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