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United States v. Alvarez

United States District Court, D. Kansas

September 19, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSE MARTINEZ, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ERIC F. MELGREN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Government’s motion in limine. The Government requests a ruling to allow it to present evidence of Defendant Jose Martinez’s flight prior to trial, evidence that Martinez resided in Mexico during the time he was a fugitive, and evidence that he used a different name while he was a fugitive. The Court held a hearing on September 18, 2017. Upon review of the parties’ arguments, the Court concludes that the Government’s evidence is admissible. Accordingly, the Court grants the United States’ Motion in Limine (Doc. 203).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background[1]

         On September 17, 2012, Martinez was arrested for allegedly distributing 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. During the intake procedure, Martinez identified himself as Jose Alejandro Martinez, and identified his alias as “Alex Martinez.” An indictment was filed on September 19, charging Martinez with violations of 21 U.S.C. § 841 and 18 U.S.C. § 2. Martinez was released on bond that same date. A superseding indictment was filed on November 6, 2012, charging Martinez with an additional count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Martinez and his co-defendants appeared in Court before U.S. District Judge Monti Belot. On November 14, Martinez was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Humphreys.

         But on November 29, Magistrate Judge Humphreys issued a warrant for Martinez’s arrest. According to the petition, Jose Martinez’s mother, Raquel Martinez, contacted a U.S. Pretrial Services Officer on November 23 and expressed concern for her son’s well-being. She stated that he should have been home by 8:00 p.m., and noted that his car was parked in the driveway. Raquel Martinez called again on November 24; she conveyed that Jose Martinez did not make it home and his whereabouts were currently unknown. Between November 23 and November 29, Jose Martinez did not report to work, and he did not attempt to contact his family, attorney, or the Pretrial Services Office.

         The parties agree that Martinez returned to Mexico around this time. It is unclear exactly how long he remained in Mexico, but he eventually returned to work in Wichita, Kansas under the name “Alex Martinez.” The U.S. Marshals located him and he was arrested on April 19, 2017. Upon his arrest, Martinez explained to the U.S. Marshals that he knew he had a warrant issued for his arrest, and “he ran because he was young and scared.” Martinez offered no objection to this evidence, but explained that he returned to Mexico in November 2012 because he had a pregnant girlfriend living there, and he went to be with her for the birth of their child.

         II. Discussion

         The Government now seeks to present evidence that Martinez fled to Mexico and attempted to conceal himself using a false identity to avoid going to trial on the crimes charged. According to the Government, Martinez fled to Mexico after the superseding indictment was filed in November 2012 and remained there until April 2017 when he returned to the District of Kansas to work under a false identity. Martinez claims his trip to Mexico was unrelated to this criminal matter, as he wanted to be present for the birth of his child. He argues that the probative value of evidence of his stay in Mexico and his use of the name “Alex Martinez” is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and should be excluded.

         While the flight evidence is closely related to the false identity evidence, they are distinct legal issues and the Court will address each issue separately.

         A. Evidence of Flight

         All relevant evidence is admissible, unless excluded under another rule of evidence.[2] But the Court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice.[3]

         Evidence of pre-trial flight has been viewed as an admission by conduct which expresses consciousness of guilt.[4] “The law is entirely well settled that the flight of the accused is competent evidence against him as having a tendency to establish his guilt.”[5] But its probative value depends upon the degree of confidence with which four inferences can be drawn: “(1) from the defendant’s behavior to flight; (2) from flight to consciousness of guilt; (3) from consciousness of guilt to consciousness of guilt concerning the crime charged; and (4) from consciousness of guilt concerning the crime charged to actual guilt of the crime charged.”[6]“[F]light evidence carries with it a strong presumption of admissibility.”[7]

         Martinez argues that his sojourn in Mexico was not “flight” because he appeared in Court for the complaint, indictment, superseding indictment, and the arraignment. The case had been proceeding for more than two months before he returned to Mexico for the birth of his child. True, the inference of guilt grows weaker as the time between the commission of the offense and the flight grows longer.[8] But Martinez left for Mexico less than nine days after he was arraigned on an additional conspiracy count. This short lapse of time does not foreclose a reasonable inference that Martinez left the District of Kansas in an effort to avoid prosecution. Thus, Martinez’s behavior can reasonably be classified as “flight.”

         Furthermore, Martinez’s flight and subsequent behavior gives rise to a reasonable inference that Martinez fled to Mexico because he felt guilty about the crimes charged because he, in fact, committed those crimes. Martinez left for Mexico without notifying his family, employer, attorney, or the Government. This behavior is not indicative of a person embarking on a pre-planned expedition. In addition, Martinez explained to the U.S. Marshals in April 2017 that he knew he had a warrant issued for his arrest, and “he ran because he was young and scared.” These facts permit reasonable inferences to be drawn concerning the second, third, and fourth factors: Martinez’s ...


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