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United States v. Frias

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

June 28, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JULIA MONIQUE FRIAS, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (D.C. No. 1:14-CR-00502-RM-1)

          John Arceci, Assistant Federal Public Defender (and Virginia L. Grady, Federal Public Defender, on the briefs), Denver, Colorado, for Defendant - Appellant.

          James Murphy, Assistant United States Attorney (and Robert C. Troyer, United States Attorney, on the brief), Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff - Appellee.

          Before BACHARACH, KELLY, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Defendant-Appellant Julia Frias was convicted by a jury of being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), and sentenced to 45 months' imprisonment and three years' supervised release, consecutive to a state sentence. On appeal, Ms. Frias contends that she was denied her constitutional right to a speedy trial and that the district court abused its discretion in instructing the jury on the government's burden of proof and responding to a jury inquiry. Our jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

         Background

         On October 13, 2014, Ms. Frias was arrested by the Denver police on a warrant in connection with a murder. Officers located Ms. Frias at her residence and observed her driving away in a vehicle. The officers attempted to block the vehicle's path, but when this failed, a four-minute chase ensued. The chase concluded when her vehicle crashed into a fence after being hit by an officer's vehicle. Ms. Frias was arrested when she ran out of her vehicle. Although officers claimed not to have seen another passenger, a friend of Ms. Frias, Melinda Tafoya, testified that she was in Ms. Frias's vehicle during the chase. According to Ms. Tafoya, she went unnoticed by the officers because she slipped out of the vehicle and over a fence while the officers grabbed Ms. Frias.

         The officers later noticed a revolver on the passenger side floorboard of Ms. Frias's vehicle in addition to two purses. One of the purses contained items belonging to Ms. Frias and bullets that fit the revolver. Ms. Frias was arrested for vehicular eluding, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of a weapon, and she was placed in the Denver County Jail.

         On December 15, 2014, while still in state custody, Ms. Frias was indicted by a federal grand jury for being a felon in possession of a firearm. At this point, Ms. Frias was not aware of the federal indictment, which was sealed pending her federal court appearance. Thereafter, she was transferred from the Denver County Jail to the custody of Jefferson County, where she was charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder. Ms. Frias cooperated with state authorities and testified against her state codefendants, and on September 24, 2015, she pled guilty to one count of accessory to murder. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-8-105(4). Her plea agreement provided that her state sentence should run concurrently with any "potential fed[eral] indictment stemming from [her] arrest in Denver." 1 R. 35. It also stated that the district attorney would "agree to reconsider if other jurisdictions impose[d] [a] consecutive sentence to this case." Id. at 36.[1] The state court imposed a four-year sentence.

         On December 19, 2016, two years after the federal indictment and nine months after her state-court sentencing, the federal government took custody of Ms. Frias and she made her initial court appearance. Ms. Frias filed a motion to dismiss the federal indictment, arguing that the delay violated her Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The district court held a hearing on the motion on February 3, 2017. Although the court found three of the four factors under Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), weighed in favor of a constitutional violation, it denied the motion to dismiss because it found a lack of prejudice. Prior to and during trial, Ms. Frias filed renewed motions to dismiss for substantially the same reasons, contending that a witness to the events, Ms. Tafoya, did not remember certain details of the incident because of the delay. After hearing Ms. Tafoya testify at trial, the district court again denied the motion for lack of prejudice.

         During the trial, the only important and contested factual issue was whether Ms. Frias possessed the firearm or ammunition found in her vehicle. During deliberations, the jury asked whether a defendant's knowledge of the gun and ammunition were sufficient to violate § 922. The court answered by referring the jury back to the original instructions, which contained the correct guidance. The jury ultimately found Ms. Frias guilty.

         Ms. Frias now appeals. She contends that (1) her constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated, (2) the district court abused its discretion in failing to adequately respond to the jury's question during deliberations, and (3) the district court abused ...


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