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United States v. Bauzo-Santiago

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 8, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JAIME BAUZÓ-SANTIAGO, Defendant-Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Francisco A. Besosa, U.S. District Judge]

          Jorge E. Rivera-Ortíz for appellant.

          Mainon A. Schwartz, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney, Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Assistant United States Attorney, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Torruella, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

         The case up today presents us with a cautionary tale of what not to say and who not to say it to, and the consequential aftermath which can flow from such a slip-up. Here's what happened.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         On July 24, 2012, a Puerto Rico Police officer out on patrol watched Bauzó pull a pistol out of the waistband of his pants and pitch it into a black SUV. The officer approached Bauzó and asked him whether he had a license to carry a firearm. When Bauzó said no (spoiler alert: this isn't "THE" slip-up; read on) the officer walked over to the SUV, opened the door, and spotted the gun on the floor of the driver's side of the car. The officer seized the gun and arrested Bauzó. At the police station, an officer read Bauzó his rights. Then (spoiler alert: this isn't "IT" either) Bauzó admitted he was carrying the pistol for his protection (he sold jewelry and clothing).

         At some point before trial would begin, Bauzó (via his court-appointed attorneys) and the government discussed the possibility of a guilty plea. But apparently things weren't going so well between Bauzó and his lawyers. In an ex-parte motion to withdraw, Bauzó's attorneys stated, "[Bauzó] believes that his counsels have not worked diligently in negotiating a plea agreement and he does not trust their professional opinions"; his "animosity toward them is evident." The motion went on, the attorneys had visited Bauzó in prison on March 7 and 11, 2014, "intend[ing] to discuss separate plea offers extended by the government, " but Bauzó "completely discarded the offers tendered by counsels." The attorneys also complained that Bauzó had no interest in helping them prepare for trial. Bauzó said he had sent a motion to the trial court via the prison mail system but, the attorneys continued, the motion's "content is unknown."

         On May 20, 2014, a hand-written letter (reader--this is "THE SLIP") postmarked March 12, 2014, was entered on Bauzó's docket as a motion to appoint counsel. Bauzó was identified as the author, and the letter was addressed to Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo (the judge presiding over Bauzó's case at the time). Here's what that letter said:

I have a situation with my lawyer . . . he has no interest in my case [and] I do not have good communications with the lawyer . . . Because of these reasons I would like to ask of the Honorable Judge to change counsel . . . if possible. I want to take advantage to notify you that I, Jaime Bauzó Santiago . . . have always accepted my responsibility as to guilt, the only thing that I ask of you is that the time for the weapons law crime be a reasonable one.

         The letter was signed "Jaime Bauzó Santiago."

         The trial court granted Bauzó's now-ex lawyers' ex-parte motion to withdraw and appointed new counsel on May 28, 2014.

         Trial Proceedings

         Fast forward four months. No plea deal had been reached, and the government (in preparation for trial) added the March 12th letter to its trial exhibit list. Bauzó filed a motion in limine to exclude the letter "purportedly sent" by him--he claimed it was a statement made during plea negotiations under Federal Rule of Evidence 410, its admission would be unfairly prejudicial under Rule 403, and that under either rule the government should not be allowed to introduce the letter. The court denied his motion.

         At trial, the government moved to admit the letter into evidence as exhibit 3. By way of foundation, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ("ATF") who worked on Bauzó's case testified that he went to the clerk's office, requested a copy of Docket Entry 94, and received Bauzó's letter. Bauzó objected and asked the government to explain how it intended to authenticate the letter as a document written by him. The government countered that it was for "the jury to decide and give the weight they can give to that handwriting and statement admission." The court noted that the letter bore Bauzó's signature, overruled his objection, and permitted the government to admit the letter. The admitted version, redacted to remove any reference to plea bargaining or the dispute between Bauzó and his lawyers, read in relevant part as follows: "I want to take advantage to notify you that I, Jaime Bauzó Santiago . . . have always accepted my responsibility as to guilt for the weapons law crime." On cross-examination, the agent said he did not know who wrote the letter, or whether the signature and handwriting were authentic--he just picked it up at the clerk's office. Then at the government's request--and with no objection from Bauzó--the court took judicial notice of the fact that "Judge Cerezo was the original judge assigned to this case . . . and that this document, docket number 94, is still part of the docket of the case." Later, the government introduced a copy of the Miranda warnings that Bauzó signed at the station. A second ATF agent testified that she witnessed Bauzó sign the warnings and write his name.

         The government put on other evidence in its case against Bauzó that is relevant to our task here on appeal. Most notably, the jury heard testimony from the Puerto Rico Police officer who saw Bauzó toss the gun, who arrested Bauzó, and to whom Bauzó admitted that he did not have a license for the gun.

         After the close of the evidence and the jury instructions (which we address at greater length below), the jury convicted Bauzó of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1).

         Sentencing

         Bauzó was sentenced on February 12, 2015. The Pre-Sentence Investigation Report ("PSR") determined that Bauzó qualified as a career criminal under the Armed Career Criminal Act ("ACCA") because he had at least three violent felony convictions. We will get into the particulars of his sentence later; for now we note only that the court did not indicate which of Bauzó's prior convictions were predicates, and that Bauzó did not object to his career-offender categorization. As a result, Bauzó was subject to a mandatory-minimum sentence of fifteen years and a career-offender Guidelines sentencing enhancement. Ultimately, he was sentenced to fifteen years and eight months in prison.

         Bauzó appealed, and that brings us up to today.

         ANALYSIS

         Here on appeal, Bauzó raises three challenges to what happened below. First, he argues that the district court erred by admitting his letter under Rule 410. Second, he challenges the district court's end-of-trial judicial-notice jury instruction, claiming it made the jury think he wrote the letter (and so admitted to doing the crime he was on trial for committing). And finally, he says the court erred in finding that he qualified as a career criminal. We review each of these challenges in turn, but finding none have merit, we reject them all and affirm his sentence.

         The ...


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