Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Court Affirms Immigration Fraud Conviction, Rejecting Sixth Amendment and Hearsay Issues

US v. Zhu: Zhu came to the United States from China in 2001 and overstayed his visa. In 2011, federal agents began an undercover sting targeting fraudulent green card users. An undercover agent, working through a non-agent intermediary, would produce fake green cards for aliens seeking to remain in the United States. The agent made it clear that this was all illegal (and consequently very expensive). Zhu became involved via an intermediary named Hui. Zhu provided Hui with falsified document that were then passed on to the agent. He also later participated in an interview with the agent, during which he again explained that "what we are doing is not legal." Hui was arrested when he took a group of people (not including Zhu) to finally get their fake green cards. In a statement to investigators Hui said that he told a few people (not including Zhu) that the green cards were legal and legitimate. Hui was convicted of green card fraud and deported. Zhu was arrested a year later and convicted, following a jury trial, of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and misuse of immigration documents.

On appeal, Zhu challenged his convictions on several grounds, all of which were rejected by the Fourth Circuit. First, Zhu argued that by deporting Hui the Government denied him the right to compulsory process of witnesses. Zhu maintained that Hui would have been a favorable witness because he would have testified that he told people the green cards they were getting were legal and legitimate. The court found no basis for this in the record, noting that Hui did admit to telling that to a few people, but Zhu wasn't one of them and the rest of Hui's statement showed he was fully aware of the illegality of their conduct. Thus, even if the Government had acted in bad faith in deporting Hui (an issue the court did not reach), Zhu could not show prejudice. Second, Zhu argued that the district court erred by admitting an email from Hui to the agent both because it was not properly authenticated and it was hearsay because it must have been written by a translator (the email was in English - Hui didn't speak English). On the authentication issue, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the Government had presented sufficient evidence, including testimony from the agent that the email came from a secret address only he and Hui knew about. On the hearsay, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the interpreter in this instance was only a conduit for the speech of another, not the producer of it. Finally, the court rejected Zhu's argument that the district court improperly interrupted his trial counsel during the questioning of witnesses and closing argument.

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