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United States v. Ruiz-Cortez

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Corpus Christi Division

October 29, 2019

EDUARDO RUIZ-CORTEZ, et al, Defendants.



         The United States accused Eduardo Ruiz-Cortez (Defendant) of violating its laws, charging him with illegally transporting an undocumented alien within the country and conspiring to do the same. D.E. 41. The United States, however, deported a potential defense witness-in violation of court order-before defense counsel could elicit trial testimony or even conduct a witness interview. Defendant moved to dismiss his superseding indictment with prejudice, citing violations of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights. D.E. 47.[1] For the following reasons, his motion is GRANTED. D.E. 47.


         According to the government, on June 8, 2019, Defendant drove a black Honda Civic with two passengers to the U.S. Border Patrol Checkpoint near Sarita, Texas. The passengers were Fernando Juarez-Gonzalez-the undocumented alien who Defendant is accused of transporting-and one other unnamed person. A Border Patrol Agent questioned the passengers and then detained everyone in the car after Juarez-Gonzalez admitted he was in the U.S. illegally. Sometime after being detained, Juarez-Gonzales “admitted” to the government that he had previously informed Defendant he was in the country illegally. D.E. 40, p. 4.

         Gerardo Diaz-Rueda was not in the black Honda Civic or at the Sarita checkpoint that day. According to the government, he was in federal custody, having been charged with illegal re-entry into the United States. Nonetheless, Defendant's attorney later came to believe Diaz-Rueda could be a “key witness, ” and attempted to secure his interview and trial testimony. D.E. 23. Notably, the prosecutor assisted defense counsel in locating Diaz-Rueda. After one attempt to secure Diaz-Rueda's testimony failed for procedural reasons, defense counsel filed an unopposed motion for an arrest warrant on July 23, 2019. D.E. 27.

         In his motion, counsel argued Diaz-Rueda could “testify to some exculpating information.” D.E. 27, p. 1. As explained in defense counsel's sworn affidavit, Defendant previously encountered Diaz-Rueda at the Brooks County Detention Center in Falfurrias, Texas. D.E. 27-2, p. 1. Diaz-Rueda told Defendant he previously met Juarez-Gonzales while both were being held at the Corpus Christi Border Patrol Station. D.E. 27-2, p. 1. Juarez-Gonzales told Diaz-Rueda that, if he was going to jail, he was “not going to go down alone.” D.E. 27-2, p. 1.[2]

         Defendant claimed this showed Juarez-Gonzales had the “motive and intent” to falsely claim Defendant knew Juarez-Gonzalez had illegally entered the country and intended to “smuggle” Juarez-Gonzalez. D.E. 27-2, p. 1. Defendant needed an arrest warrant because Diaz-Rueda would “most likely be deported soon, ” as he recently pleaded guilty to illegal reentry and was being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at its Montgomery Processing Center in Conroe, Texas. D.E. 27.

         Magistrate Judge Janice Ellington granted the defense's motion on the day after it was filed, and also issued a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum. D.E. 29, 30. Her order required that Diaz-Rueda be arrested and detained as a material witness for Defendant pending trial or unless otherwise ordered by the court. D.E. 29. The writ commanded the warden of the Montgomery Processing Center to deliver Diaz-Rueda to the U.S. Marshal for a hearing on August 21, 2019 and for trial on September 9, 2019. D.E. 30. In anticipation of these proceedings, Diaz-Rueda was later appointed counsel.

         Despite the writ's commands to the warden, Diaz-Rueda never appeared at the August 21 hearing. The government had deported him on July 31-one week after Judge Ellington granted Defendant's motion and issued the writ.


         I. Defendant Ruiz-Cortez's Motion to Dismiss

         Defendant argues the government's deportation of Diaz-Rueda violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process and his Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process. For its part, the government primarily argues Defendant cannot show the deportation caused any prejudice, citing United States v. Valenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. 858 (1982). Beyond that, it makes two secondary arguments. It claims it assisted defense counsel in locating Diaz-Rueda. And it says, “there is no reasonable doubt in this case.” D.E. 40, p. 4. For the following reasons, these arguments fail, and Defendant has shown there is a “reasonable likelihood” Diaz-Rueda's testimony could have affected a jury's judgment. Valenzuela-Bernal, 458 U.S. at 874.

         At the outset, the government's secondary arguments lack any merit. Its claim that “there is no reasonable doubt in this case” ignores two of our Constitution's fundamental guarantees: the presumption of innocence and trial by jury. D.E. 40, p. 4. The prosecution also misses the mark in arguing it helped defense counsel locate Diaz-Rueda. While commendable, this fails to address the point of defendant's motion. It is not based on some unreasonable delay in locating Diaz-Rueda, but upon his deportation in violation of court order.

         II. Case Law on ...

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