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United States v. Goris

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 27, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellee,
v.
JOSÉ IGNACIO GORIS, Defendant, Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND [Hon. Mary M. Lisi, U.S. District Judge] [Hon. John J. McConnell, Jr., U.S. District Judge]

         Before Lynch and Selya, Circuit Judges, and Levy, District Judge. [*]

          Robert B. Mann, with whom Robert B. Mann Law Office was on brief, for appellant.

          Donald C. Lockhart, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Stephen G. Dambruch, Acting United States Attorney, was on brief, for appellee.

          SELYA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Defendant-appellant José Ignacio Goris, convicted of a drug-trafficking offense in the aftermath of a government sting, strives to convince us that he should be granted a new trial based on denied discovery and alleged instructional error. We are not persuaded: after articulating the standard for materiality pertaining to discovery in criminal cases (a matter of first impression in this circuit), we uphold both the district court's denial of the requested discovery and its jury instructions. Accordingly, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We briefly rehearse the relevant facts and travel of the case. In the late spring and summer of 2014, the defendant was the target of an elaborate sting operation undertaken by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Believing himself to be communicating with a representative of a "reputable" drug trafficker (an oxymoron of the first order), the defendant had extensive discussions with an undercover DEA agent regarding his purchase of one to five kilograms of cocaine. The "reputable" drug trafficker had previously provided the defendant with subpar product. Once bitten, twice shy, so the defendant dealt cautiously with the trafficker's supposed representative (the undercover agent). While the defendant repeatedly told the undercover agent that his goal was to purchase from one to five kilograms of cocaine, he insisted that he could not make a large purchase without first testing the product.

         At a meeting in the agent's car, the defendant explained that he wanted to take one kilogram of cocaine and test it. If the sample proved satisfactory, he would then consummate the purchase. Reaching back behind the seat, the defendant handled a dummy kilogram that had been placed there by the agent and said, "that feels good." Later in the day, the two men met inside a home improvement store and made arrangements for the final handoff: the defendant would remove a brick of cocaine (approximately one kilogram) from the agent's car and take it home for testing.

         The test never came to pass. After the defendant retrieved the brick (the dummy kilogram, as matters turned out) from the agent's car, he was arrested on the spot. A federal grand jury subsequently charged him with attempting to possess 500 grams or more of cocaine with intent to distribute. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1).

         In the course of routine pretrial discovery, the government produced materials making clear its intention to offer at trial the recorded conversations between the defendant and the undercover agent, including the conversation that occurred on the day of the defendant's arrest inside the home improvement store (the August 14 recording). The defendant moved for additional discovery related to the August 14 recording, but the district court (Lisi, J.) denied his discovery motion on two grounds, finding that materiality had not been shown and that the information sought was proprietary in nature. For reasons not relevant here, the case was reassigned to a different trier and, immediately before the start of trial, the defendant effectively renewed his discovery motion. The district court (McConnell, J.) refused to revisit the earlier ruling.

         At trial, the defense sought to persuade the jury that the defendant never actually intended to purchase the cocaine but, rather, merely wanted a sample of the drug for testing. The defense also suggested that the August 14 recording had been manipulated by the government and could not be considered credible. The jury was unconvinced: it found that the defendant had attempted to possess 500 grams or more of cocaine with intent to distribute. Judge McConnell imposed a five-year term of immurement and this timely appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         In this venue, the defendant, represented by new appellate counsel, advances two claims of error. First, he argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to examine the original of the August 14 recording and the software that generated and stored it. Second, he finds fault with the district court's instructions regarding the jury's duty to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had ...


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